BioWorld International Correspondent

DUBLIN, Ireland Trinity Biotech plc is exercising an option to make a follow-on investment in the early stage genomics firm HiberGen Ltd. The diagnostics company is investing EUR3.8 million in HiberGen, following a seed round it completed in 2000.

HiberGen, which was formed in 1999, has now secured approximately EUR5.7 million in total funding.

The current deal is based on a series of staggered payments that will be made over 30 months. In the absence of any additional third-party funding, Trinity, of Bray, will eventually gain a majority position in HiberGen, also of Bray. The percentage of the final stake and the valuation will be determined by HiberGen’s progress in reaching agreed milestones, HiberGen CEO Maurice Treacy told BioWorld International. “This will be their last investment in HiberGen. They will dilute from this point onward,” he said.

The company already is seeking additional financing. “We will be going back to the markets for private equity, probably in the latter half of this year,” Treacy said.

HiberGen is commercializing two platform technologies developed at University College Cork (UCC) by associate professor of biochemistry Tommy McCarthy and Pat Vaughan, now the company’s chief scientific officer. SNaPIT (single nucleotide polymorphism identification technology) is a genotyping technique that exploits the specificity of glycosylase DNA repair enzymes to identify the presence or absence of individual SNPs in amplified DNA sequences. The enzyme excises an individual base at a recognition site, and the resulting abasic site is then susceptible to endonuclease cleavage, resulting in an identifiable pattern of DNA fragments that can be resolved through electrophoresis.

“It is a key part of our strategy to make SNaPIT widely available,” Treacy said. The company plans to release its first detection kits based on the technology in the next quarter. It also will offer tailored genotyping services for applications such as pharmacogenomics and livestock breeding.

HiberGen’s second platform is an “isothermal” amplification technique that enables DNA and RNA amplification procedures to be performed at a single temperature. “We see it as an alternative approach to amplification,” Treacy said. The company has not yet publicly disclosed the full details of its mechanism.

The company is applying the SNaPIT technology to internal target discovery programs in attention deficit disorder, inflammatory bowel disease, coronary heart disease and diabetic nephropathy, a form of kidney disease that arises in patients with diabetes. These efforts are based on clinical samples drawn primarily from the Irish population.

It already has secured rights to a gene identified at UCC that is associated with pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening high-blood pressure condition that can develop during pregnancy. This may form the basis of a diagnostic test. At present, the marker is being validated against clinical data taken from a non-Irish population. “We think that probably will be completed this calendar year,” Treacy said.