Washington Editor

In its first drug discovery agreement, GeneFormatics Inc. signed a deal with Arakis Ltd. to discover pharmaceutical products developed using advances in biology to identify applications of established drugs in new indications.

The deal calls for GeneFormatics, of San Diego, to use its structural proteomics capabilities to identify and describe secondary biochemical functional sites, and then for Arakis, of Little Chesterford, UK, to combine the information with its knowledge and databases in order to define and validate possible targets.

Neither company would discuss financial terms of the agreement, nor would they disclose specific targets or therapies scheduled for study.

Arakis, founded in March 2000, takes new biology and exploits it for established drugs. "What we're saying is, how can we exploit this biology with reference to known drugs and maybe find a property that can treat a disease that no one has found in the past," Julian Gilbert, Arakis' commercial director, told BioWorld Today. "GeneFormatics has proprietary biological information that they generate themselves, so with the deal we will have access to their biology in order for us to find new uses for old drugs."

Vince Gotz, GeneFormatics' chief business officer, described the collaboration as "open ended," telling BioWorld Today that it is a discovery deal that can be expanded to the development stage if anything promising surfaces.

GeneFormatics, a private company founded in 1998, uses its Diamond technology (Diverse Integrated Automated Methods of Novel Discovery) to analyze entire genomes at the functional level to discover potential protein targets and potential leads that are selective for those targets. That approach has helped the company yield more than 10,000 structural and functional discoveries, including 6,000 from the human genome, it said. Using the technology, GeneFormatics has reviewed 10 different genomes to date.

As for the agreement with Arakis, Gotz said, "GeneFormatics has looked at a number of companies that have complementary technologies to what we have. We are a small company and we are looking for those companies and technologies that can fit into what we have so we can move forward into new areas."

During its four-year history, GeneFormatics has raised $42 million in three financing rounds. In January 2001, the company merged with Structure Function Genomics LLC, a Princeton, N.J.-based company that had nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy technology. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 18, 2001.)

In January, GeneFormatics signed its second deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York. In that deal, the companies agreed to jointly advance the development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) software for the automated, high-throughput determination of 3-D protein structures derived from NMR data. As part of the earlier agreement from July 2000, the companies are evaluating the biological significance of potential therapeutic targets using GeneFormatics' computational Fuzzy Functional Form platform technology to elucidate protein function and structure.

Arakis has four clinical programs, including two in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and one each in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

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