PARIS ¿ The Paris-based functional genomics company ExonHit Therapeutics SA entered a collaboration with Allergan Inc., giving the U.S. company access to its target identification technology, Signal-Hit.

Allergan, an Irvine, Calif.-based developer of ophthalmic medicines, will use Signal-Hit to identify new molecular targets in an undisclosed field of its drug discovery program.

The deal provides for ExonHit and Allergan to join forces for the study of tissue obtained from Allergan¿s disease model system following treatment with drug candidates. ExonHit will use Signal-Hit, which is based on its proprietary gene expression technology DATAS (for differential analysis of transcripts with alternative splicing), to identify clones that are differentially expressed in the treated tissue relative to diseased tissue. The clones will then be prioritized with the help of bioinformatics analysis, after which functional studies will be performed to validate the most promising targets.

The agreement gives Allergan the option of acquiring a commercial license for therapeutic and diagnostic rights to selected clones. ExonHit will retain the intellectual property rights to non-purchased clones. As well as paying ExonHit fees for access to its technology, Allergan will make milestone and royalty payments to the French company if it exercises its options.

ExonHit CEO Bruno Tocqui stressed the fact that this was the company¿s first collaboration with a company in the United States. ¿It means they weren¿t able to find what they were looking for in their own country,¿ he told BioWorld International, adding that it vindicated ExonHit¿s decision to set up an American subsidiary in Gaithersburg, Md., at the beginning of this year.

¿We hope to be able to announce other partnerships with U.S. companies shortly,¿ he went on. Further collaborations involving Signal-Hit might well be outside ExonHit¿s core therapeutic areas of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, he explained.

ExonHit is pursuing a dual strategy for the short- and long-term development of its business. To ensure a short-term revenue flow, it has established a four-tier technology platform spanning pharmacotoxicology, target identification, pharmacogenomics and lead generation, which it licenses out to third parties or makes available as a service delivered by its own staff. In parallel, it is building up a pipeline of what it calls ¿high-value, ready-for-development compounds¿ (RDCs) in its two chosen therapeutic areas.

It has four RDCs in its product pipeline: EHT-201 and EHT-202 for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases, and EHT-101 and EHT-102 for cancer. EHT-101 embodies a ¿unique and validated mechanism¿ for modifying the architecture of cancer cells without affecting noncancerous cells, while EHT-102 targets one of the major inhibitors of the development of ovarian, colon and breast cancer. EHT-201 is the most advanced of the four, since preclinical studies of the compound have been finalized.

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