BioWorld International Correspondent

Hungarian combinatorial chemistry specialist ComGenex Inc. is beginning to build a drug discovery business alongside its traditional services activity and recently disclosed its first U.S. partner.

The Budapest-based company signed a discovery pact with Echelon Research Laboratories Inc. aimed at identifying novel inhibitors of lipid kinases and phosphatases that could have applications in areas such as cancer, heart disease and inflammation.

ComGenex is supplying high-throughput synthesis, analysis, ADME/Tox predictions and chemoinformatic and chemogenomic technologies. Salt Lake City-based Echelon is employing proprietary high-throughput screening assays to identify lead compounds. The latter company is affiliated with the Center for Cell Signaling, a program funded by the state of Utah, and is a recipient of NIH funding for research on cell signaling and communication.

ComGenex now has three discovery alliances under its belt. Last March it entered its first, with another Hungarian firm, Szeged-based Solvo Biotechnology Inc. Last month, the partners disclosed patent filings on the first drug candidates to emanate from this program, which have exhibited activity against multidrug-resistance proteins that are overexpressed in certain cancer cell types. It has yet to disclose its third drug discovery partner, but it also is a U.S. biotechnology firm, ComGenex CEO Lazlo Urge said.

ComGenex has a decade of experience in supplying combinatorial chemistry services to pharmaceutical firms. Its base of more than 200 customer organizations includes Bayer AG, of Leverkusen, Germany, and Aventis CropScience, of Lyon, France.

It has taken a cautious approach to building shared drug discovery alliances. “With our cash flow we can support a few early discovery programs but we are reviewing our strategic options on how to finance these as they succeed further downstream to fully leverage our in-house expertise. This may include the later separation of the service from [the] discovery business line,” Urge said.

The company recently expanded its laboratory capacity by about 50 percent by opening a new 10,000-square-foot facility in Fuzfo Industrial Park in Balatonfuzfo, about an hour from Budapest. This eventually will be able to house 100 scientists. The company also is considering establishing research facilities in the U.S., Urge said.

It already has sales offices in South San Francisco and Monmouth Junction, N.J.