Tosk Inc. used its vector technology to create what it said is the world's first genetically engineered Cichlid, or what is commonly called a "convict" fish due to its black and white stripes.

"It was really just to show the novelty of our system," Tosk President Patrick Fogarty said. "No matter what kind of strange, bizarre organisms you're interested in, this will work."

Fogarty said his Santa Cruz, Calif.-based company's technology can be used "seemingly in any species," including mice, rats, chickens, fish, humans and quail.

The privately held company said its StealthGene system is a transposon-based (nonviral) vector that integrates into the genome. It is based on the p element vector that has been used for gene delivery into Drosophila for more than 15 years. But until now, the technology has been stifled as it relates to moving it into other species, Fogarty said.

"With all the genes now known, making transgenic animals has become a big bottleneck [in drug discovery]," Fogarty said. "This offers a high-throughput transgenic production capability."

Fogarty said Tosk is working with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as leading research universities, such as UCLA and Stanford, on a variety of applications for its technology.

Tosk also is using its gene delivery platform to fund its own internal drug discovery efforts.

"We've developed a line of disease model animals that have a predictive component to their phenotype," Fogarty said. "So, if you take our metastatic tumor model and you test it with drugs that are known to have a certain profile in human models, it mirrors that profile perfectly."

Tosk takes drugs that are both in the clinic and the market, such as classic taxols or methotrexates, and looks at those to determine what establishes a predictive model before trying to "fool the system" and screening it against thousands of compounds, he said. Tosk calls this one-step process of discovery and validation "discoveration."

The company's newest technology is a further enhancement of its gene delivery system, which allows in-animal genetic engineering. In other words, Tosk can inject a gene to repair a "broken" gene, and no others.

"It's gene therapy in a sense, but you're only changing what's broken to what should be normal," Fogarty said.

The technology is patented, making it one of Tosk's three issued patents. The company has another 10 patents pending.

"The research side of this is that you can use this to knock out all or part of a gene, or replace one nucleotide in a gene of any animal model," he said.

Founded in 1999 by Fogarty, Tosk has five employees. The company raised about $1 million in two rounds of angel funding, and it hopes to complete a $10 million Series A round by the end of the year.

Money raised would be used for Tosk's internal drug discovery efforts, which are focused on cancer and neurodegeneration. The company has about a dozen validated preclinical models.

"We hope to have one, and maybe two, compounds in the clinic by the end of 2003," Fogarty said.

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