BioWorld International Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel With human bombs rather than human genes on many minds, an estimated 100 attendees withdrew from Bio-Tech Israel 2002, the conference and exhibition inaugurating Israel’s annual government-sponsored National Biotechnology Week.

David Haselkorn, head organizer and CEO of Tel Aviv- and Yavne-based CBI-Clal Biotechnology Industries Ltd., addressed the crowd of about 300 who did attend by saying “We warmly welcome those who came and understand those who did not.”

Yigal Koltin, vice president of international R&D alliance development at Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., was in attendance. Millennium established its Israeli field office in March 2000.

Koltin stood with Mor Amitai, Compugen Ltd.’s president and CEO, as they announced the companies’ collaboration the first collaboration Millennium has formed with an Israeli biotechnology company. Compugen and biopharmaceutical giant Millennium will co-develop software tools to assist in the prediction of protein pathways for use in drug discovery and development.

“This is a real partnership where computational technologies will be matched with molecular biology and medicine,” Koltin told BioWorld International, “and we hope that it will be a lasting one. Millennium brings its strong platform for validation of Compugen’s in silico modeling.”

The companies will share costs on the project and the rights to specific aspects of the technology developed through the collaboration. Compugen’s Amitai, speaking to BioWorld International, said: “We are delighted to partner with Millennium, a highly respected and leading biopharmaceutical company, which contributes its proven scientific and commercial record of successes in advancing drug discovery and development to this partnership. Personally, we see this collaboration as an important validation of our technological strength, and enter it feeling confident that the results of this joint research will help scientists to better leverage high-throughput genomic data to understand and access the molecular bases of disease for the development of new therapeutics.”

Koltin agreed, saying: “Compugen has established itself as a leader in modeling unique biological phenomena, alternative splicing, and metabolic and regulatory pathways. We are excited at the prospects of our combined expertise and strengths, with a long-term view in mind.”

Koltin said Millennium “will continue to seek additional opportunities for partnerships within the Israeli biotechnology industry, focused on four franchise areas: oncology, metabolic diseases, inflammation and cardiovascular diseases.” In 1992, Koltin co-founded ChemGenics Ltd. in Cambridge, Mass. Millennium opened up shop next door a year later and the companies merged in January 1997.

Later in the meeting, Compugen presented the first plant genome sequence resulting from its entry into agricultural biotechnology in 1999. In January, Compugen established EvoGene Ltd., its agricultural biotechnology subsidiary.

Of the milestone, EvoGene co-founder Hagai Karchi said, “EvoGene’s core technology platforms mimic and accelerate natural evolutionary processes applicable not only to agrotech but also enabling the use of transgenic plants as bioreactors in the field of molecular farming and pharming’ to provide improved neutraceuticals.”

In a separate talk, Amitai also showed what was a putative variant of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) that was discovered using Compugen’s computational biology platform and then validated in the company’s molecular biology laboratory. He noted that this new PSA splice variant and the PSA protein, although coded by the same gene, have no amino acid residue in common. “We predicted in 1997 that alternative splicing is the norm, not the exception, in the human genome, a discovery that is leading us to unravel a large number of proprietary genes and proteins,” he said.