BioWorld International Correspondent
LONDON - F2G Ltd. agreed to a collaboration with Genome Therapeutics Corp. as it moved to first completion of a £5 million (US$7.65 million) venture capital funding round, with a second closing of a further £5 million expected within the next few months.
Ashley Cooper, CEO of the antifungal drug discovery company, told BioWorld International, "The GTC deal is a huge milestone for the company as it is the first time we have a collaboration outside Europe. The fact that we can do a deal underlines our expertise in the area [of antifungals] and increases our chances of finding hits for our targets."
In spite of acute clinical need for new systemic antifungal drugs, F2G, based in Manchester, said it is the only company exclusively focused on Aspergillus fumigatus.
Under the agreement with GTC, of Waltham, Mass., F2G will screen GTC's library against its antifungal targets, using its whole-cell throughput screening. Cooper said the two companies will then consider how to take forward hits into further development.
F2G was set up in 1998 and has raised £2 million to date, which it has spent on the development of tools, including MycoBank, a collection of mutant organisms that represent all possible single-gene deletions of A. fumigatus. The company is seeking to access as much chemical diversity as possible, to find hits for its targets.
"There is a paucity of good antifungal targets. We think there are probably around 10,000 genes in A. fumigatus, and up to 1,000 will be essential for survival. Of this, we think there may be one [dozen] to three dozen that will make good targets. That is, there is no homology with a human protein, [so] we can figure out function and make a screen," Cooper said.
The genome of A. fumigatus is being sequenced in a project funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and a UK charity, the Wellcome Trust.
"Now when we identify essential genes we can go to the public database and look up the sequence. We have discovered genes that have never been discussed in the literature, which is good, but we haven't got a clue what they do," Cooper said. "Our aim is to demonstrate the gene is essential, then work out what it does. There are pathways that we understand."
The £10 million will fund the company into 2004, but F2G said it expects to do deals and said pharmaceutical companies are coming forward with lead series for screening.
F2G's co-founder and medical director is David Denning, a practicing clinician, who also is coordinator of the A. fumigatus screening project. "This gives us clinical back-up when we get further down the line. David is incredibly well known in the sector and provides us with an unusually clear grasp of clinical need and the competitive environment," Cooper said.