Washington Editor

Signature BioScience Inc. plans to buy PrimeCyte Inc., a Seattle-based company focused on oncology drugs, in a stock deal between privately held companies that was valued at $10 million to $20 million.

Through the purchase, set to close Jan. 25, Signature would gain PrimeCyte’s Cytection technology, as well as its Phase II drug candidate, PC4071, currently being studied in ovarian cancer and sarcoma patients. PrimeCyte has two other compounds expected to move into preclinical development by the end of the year.

“Their technology complements ours,” said Jesse Ciccone, director of corporate communications for Signature, located in San Francisco. Signature intends to relocate and retain PrimeCyte’s seven employees to its California facility. Signature employs about 110 people.

Signature expects PrimeCyte’s technology to help advance its own detection-based, cell-oriented drug discovery platform called WaveScreen.

The Cytection technology generates high-throughput drug discovery screens that use primary cells rather than immortalized cell lines of patients with the disease under investigation. That technology will be integrated into WaveScreen to complement Signature’s novel cellular and molecular screening technology, multipole coupling spectroscopy (MCS).

“We believe that Signature’s opportunistic acquisition strategy will dramatically shorten our time frame to become a true drug discovery company with high-quality preclinical leads available for licensing to pharmaceutical and biotech partners,” Mark McDade, Signature’s CEO, said in a prepared statement. “In PrimeCyte, we gain one-of-a-kind screening technology to complement MCS, a pipeline of leads primed to be optimized with our chemistry capabilities, and a wealth of biology expertise, particularly in oncology, which will be a primary area of focus for us moving forward.”

Founded in 1998, Signature is a private company that raised $43 million in a self-managed placement in July. Since its inception, the company has raised $64 million. (See BioWorld Today, July 10, 2001.)

Signature and MDS Inc., of Toronto, recently signed a deal worth at least $10 million that calls for MDS to develop Signature’s microwave spectroscopy instrumentation. And before that, in an effort to revive WaveScreen, Signature bought Cambridge Discovery Chemistry Inc. from Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. The deal includes a two-year collaboration between Signature and Millennium. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 16, 2001, and July 17, 2001.)