BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS The Belgian functional genomics company Galapagos Genomics NV signed a research collaboration agreement with Exelixis Inc. covering the use of Galapagos’ adenoviral technology for analyzing the function of novel genes in cell-based assays.

Using its PhenoSelect gene expression platform, which generates viral vectors that are replication-deficient and can infect a wide range of human cells, Galapagos, of Mechelen, will construct recombinant viruses harboring genes selected by Exelixis.

Exelixis, of South San Francisco, then will use this collection of viruses to introduce the genes in various cell types to evaluate the function of the proteins encoded by the genes within targeted biological pathways relevant to certain diseases. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Exelixis is a genomics-based drug discovery company that uses model organisms to discover new genes for the purpose of developing novel medicines. Its research is focused on pathologies such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, but its agreement with Galapagos does not specify any field of therapeutic application for their work, Galapagos’ CEO, Onno van de Stolpe, told BioWorld International.

Describing Exelixis as a “major powerhouse in the drug discovery field,” van de Stolpe said, “We see this collaboration as a first step in a longer-term relationship,” adding that the two firms already had completed a minor collaboration.

The PhenoSelect technology to which Exelixis is gaining access under this agreement has just been granted a U.S. patent titled, “High-Throughput Screening of Gene Function Using Adenoviral Libraries for Functional Genomics Applications.” Its automated, miniaturized construction of arrayed adenoviral expression libraries yield efficient transduction of target cells in a multiwell format that expresses a unique human protein per well, Galapagos said.

This enables Galapagos to perform a broad range of assays to identify genes that cause a specific change in phenotype, and thus establishes a causal relationship between genes and their function. Readouts of the different assays range from cellular morphology changes to reporter gene expression and biochemical pathway indicators, making it possible to link the observed phenotype with the corresponding gene.

Galapagos currently is engaged in a private funding round in which it expects to raise some EUR20 million (US$18 million) from a number of venture capital funds. It had hoped to close the operation before the end of 2001, but van de Stolpe said he is confident that it will now be completed in February. “The funding has been delayed, but all signals are on green to close it next month. The lead investors are lined up and the term sheet has been signed,” he said.

The arrival of new investors would give Galapagos a greater degree of autonomy. At present, it is a joint subsidiary of the Dutch company Crucell NV, of Leiden, and the Belgian firm Tibotec-Virco NV, of Mechelen, and its technology is based on Crucell’s PER.C6 human cell line expression platform, for which it has an exclusive license in functional genomics applications.