Partnering complementary technologies, two young companies entered into a collaborative research and development agreement with a goal of shared development.

Specifically, Intradigm Corp. and DirectGene Inc. will work to generate cancer drugs, combining DirectGene’s tumor-selective promoter technologies with Intradigm’s gene delivery technology. They will develop systemically delivered, mechanism-directed cancer therapies using nucleic acid delivery technology.

“We’re both small and starting out, and we therefore have a commonality of purpose,” DirectGene CEO and President Timothy Williamson said. “Their technology is, in our opinion, the very best, most advanced technology with the best intellectual property underpinnings for use by us to do what we want to do, which is to create products using their synthetic vector technology to carry genetic information.”

Intradigm will provide targeted synthetic gene vector technologies, designed to improve delivery methods for DirectGene’s cancer therapy products into targeted tumor cells. The Annapolis, Md.-based company develops products called CRAds designed to replicate in cells positive for its promoters (cancer cells) but that do not replicate in or harm cells negative for the promoters (normal cells).

“Our technology is built to a significant degree on what we call gene promoters, which are gene segments that can be used to turn on a therapeutic modality only in cells in which that gene segment is up-regulated,” Williamson said. “We can cause a therapeutic to be, to a far greater degree, selective for and specific for cancer tissue, and in essence benign in normal tissue. So this is a way of pursuing the Holy Grail of cancer therapy, which is increased specificity and selectivity.”

DirectGene will provide its cancer-specific promoter technology as well as research funding. Specific financial terms were not disclosed, though Intradigm will receive royalties on net sales of resultant products.

“A significant portion of the work will be done by scientists at Intradigm, and we are funding that,” Williamson said. “They will [get] future royalties and other payments once we begin to commercialize a product.”

While the partnership features no specified endpoint, the companies have targeted a definite range of therapeutics.

“The first products that we will be developing with Intradigm will be focused on advanced metastatic osteogenic sarcoma, which is a bone cancer that has metastasized to the lungs,” Williamson said. “Prostate cancer is another indication that we’re looking at, and a third indication will be pancreatic cancer.

“The end product that we would expect to develop with Intradigm would be their synthetic vector with certain targeting ligands on its surface. To the extent that we can identify and we have identified receptors on the surface of cancer cells, then we can, if you will, attack those cancer cells by causing this synthetic vector to go to the cancer cell, using a ligand specific for the receptor on the surface of that cell.”

Rockville, Md.-based Intradigm uses its gene delivery technologies both in the validation and discovery of drug targets and in the development of gene therapies.

Since being formed in June 2001 by three scientists from Novartis Genetic Therapy Inc., Intradigm has assembled gene delivery capabilities that use gene delivery technology for target validation in animals, in vivo. The company licensed nonviral delivery technology from Novartis, and also accessed technology from the University of Maryland.

“Our starting point was better than ground zero,” said Casey Eitner, Intradigm’s vice president of business development. “Our unique proposition is to use gene delivery to validate the function of genes directly in animals.”

It also will use its platform to help gene therapy companies develop their drugs in deals such as this one, the company’s first.

“DirectGene is able to access our gene delivery capabilities, and that lets us build them up and flex our muscle in that area,” Eitner said, “as we pursue our other principal business, which is in vivo target validation.”

Investors for privately held Intradigm include Emerging Technology Partners, Novartis Venture Fund and the State of Maryland’s Business and Economic Development Department.

Founded in February 1999, DirectGene also is involved in a partnership with Birmingham, Ala.-based VectorLogics Inc., a company that deals with adenoviral vectors.

“We’re interested in other vectors than just the synthetic vector technology,” Williamson said. “We have reason to believe there are benefits to both.”