Immusol Inc. and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. are collaborating to determine if their combined technologies can uncover protein drug targets that play a role in inflammation and other diseases.

San Diego-based Immusol will use its Inverse Genomics technology, while Vertex, of Cambridge, Mass., will use technology developed at its Aurora Biosciences subsidiary.

"The goal of this collaboration is really twofold: first, to develop inflammation drug targets," said Niv Caviar, vice president of business development and marketing at Immusol. "The second goal is to evaluate whether our technologies can synergize well.

"If we can discover good targets, we will move to a much larger second-stage [collaboration]," he said.

Inverse genomics is an approach in which drug targets are discovered by first identifying the biology and then determining the gene responsible for the activity. The more traditional approach in genomics is to activate a gene and determine how that manifests itself in biology, Caviar said.

Aurora will be providing the cell lines and reporter systems for the collaboration.

In return, Vertex will make research and development payments to Immusol, he said. The companies will co-own any targets discovered, allowing each company to pursue internal drug development efforts using the targets.

"Immusol will either make small-molecule compounds, or we might license these out to a third party," Caviar said.

Caviar said it is a testament to the company's technology platform that Immusol has been able to complete five deals in 15 months. Most notably, the company entered a $150 million, five-year collaboration to deliver at least 50 targets to Novartis AG, of Basel, Switzerland, in the oncology area. Novartis will then develop compounds to treat cancer. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 2, 2001.)

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