West Coast Editor

On the heels of a potential $100 million deal with Pfizer Inc., Tripos Inc. said its chemistry and software expertise have netted another collaboration this one with the European firm Ionix Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

Tripos, which is teaming with Ionix to design and synthesize drug-like chemical compounds as potential inhibitors of a single, undisclosed Ionix drug target, gets an undisclosed amount of program funding from the overseas firm and downstream milestones and royalties.

“One of the concerns I keep hearing is, Aren’t you at full capacity because of the Pfizer deal [in January]?’” said Melissa Jacobs, director of marketing and communication for St. Louis-based Tripos.

“We’re ramping up to capacity, and we have more available for discovery research projects,” she told BioWorld Today. “We still have room to do collaborations, and we have people to put on them as well.”

Ionix, of Cambridge, UK, exploits ion channel drug targets that are involved in the perception and signaling of pain, and has been particularly interested in molecular targets expressed in the peripheral nervous system, where blocking the ion channel could lead to new drugs for chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain.

Using its chemistry process, which includes LeadQuest chemical libraries and other informatics technologies with names such as ChemSpace, LeadFocus and LeadHopping, Tripos will take a number of lead structures from Ionix chemists and design, select and produce compound libraries. Then scientists at Ionix will screen compounds for target selectivity and functionality, and start optimizing drug leads that seem promising.

ChemSpace lets Tripos search its database at a speed of 2 trillion compounds an hour.

“It just keeps cranking through numbers to come up with choices,” Jacobs said. LeadFocus is what Tripos calls its follow-up libraries, used for exploring the chemistry around a hit, and LeadHopping lets researchers “hop” from lead chemistries to surrounding chemistries.

Tripos’ four-year chemistry deal with New York-based Pfizer, one of three agreements between the two, calls for the former to design, synthesize and purify compounds to build Pfizer’s library. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 8, 2002.)

Tripos signed an agreement in the fall of 2000 with Bayer AG, of Leverkusen, Germany, to boost lead candidate identification. That agreement is a three-way pact including Heidelberg, Germany-based LION Bioscience AG. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 17, 2000.)

“That’s more of an informatics deal, on the LION-Bayer side,” Jacobs said. “We’re providing software consulting services on that deal.”

Genomics-related tools companies may be experiencing an overall slump, she added, but Tripos doesn’t know about it.

“We’re actually seeing a rise in our chemistry business,” she said. “That’s where the rubber hits the road: the chemistry part of it.”

The company is “basically trying to help our partners, collaborators and customers do their work, and we’re being recognized for fitting into this niche,” she added.

Tripos has proven especially helpful in “unblocking stalled discovery projects, taking a look at the answers we get and figuring out how to get around problem areas” through chemistry, Jacobs said. The firm also has its own lead compound libraries of novel drug-like compounds sold for high-throughput screening.

Tripos’ stock (NASDAQ:TRPS) closed Tuesday at $23.15, down 88 cents.

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