West Coast Editor

Its yeast-based platform garnered an unspecified amount of “bread” for Genetastix Corp., through a deal with Hyseq Pharmaceuticals Inc. to generate fully human monoclonal antibodies against a proprietary antigen.

“Hyseq discovered [the antigen, also undisclosed] using their genomics platform,” said Marc Bencivenga, vice president of business development for San Jose, Calif.-based Genetastix.

Under the terms, privately held Genetastix gets up-front money, plus research and development payments, in exchange for an option that lets Hyseq enter an exclusive commercial use agreement for the antibodies. If all goes well, Genetastix could collect more research and development payments, plus license fees, milestone cash and royalties.

“It’s your standard option-to-license agreement,” Bencivenga said, adding that the company has made other deals like the Hyseq agreement, “but this is the first one we can talk about publicly.”

The 13-employee company uses HuMYTech, which stands for Human Monoclonal Antibody Yeast Technology, to achieve what it calls a “near 100 percent success rate” in generating antibodies against simple and complex antigens.

Genetastix’s main boast for the method is that it can make unique antibodies to multiple epitopes of the same protein, and it even works against complex membrane proteins including G protein-coupled receptors. HuMYTech is cheaper, too, since it uses yeast and cDNA as antigen screening material.

“This is a huge advantage, because we’re using yeast to select which antibodies bind to the target, and you’ve got a human being making those selections,” Bencivenga said.

The process combines yeast two-hybrid technology and Genetastix’s screening approach. Yeast cells multiply quickly and are easy to handle, so affinity maturation doesn’t take as long as with mammals.

“We’re the first company to use [the yeast two-hybrid] system for this, and the freedom to operate is much different from a phage-display company or a transgenic mouse company,” he added. “It’s a much rosier picture. We don’t need purified protein to start the process, and our ability to access the diversity of our library has been demonstrated over and over again.”

Bencivenga told BioWorld Today that Genetastix, founded in June 2000, has “worked with probably 20 biological targets, all well known and validated. With all 20, we have been able to isolate primary clones pulled out from primary screening anywhere from three to 10 antibodies per target. In five of the 20 targets, we’ve taken the clones and sent them to the laboratory to do functional assay tests.”

The company has other collaborations in the works.

“There are several very large deals that are in late-stage negotiations,” Bencivenga said. “They’re focused on the antibodies themselves that we’ve isolated in-house, and they’re $20 million-plus in size, including royalties.”

One of the prospective arrangements is focused on GPCRs, which is “an area we feel is really going to be a major focus for us,” he said.

Hyseq, for its part, most recently made news by acquiring the thrombolytic alfimeprase for peripheral arterial occlusions from Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif., which will handle manufacturing as Hyseq, of Sunnyvale, Calif., pushes the compound toward clinical development. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 10, 2002.)

Hyseq’s stock (NASDAQ:HYSQ) closed Wednesday at $6.42, up 17 cents.