LONDON ¿ Microscience Ltd. licensed its technology for high-speed identification of virulence genes in pathogenic bacteria to an Australian company, Anadis Ltd., for use in a Helicobacter pylori vaccine program.

Anadis, based in Campbellfield, Victoria, is paying US$100,000 up front, and will share any revenues 50-50 with Microscience.

Microscience CEO Rod Richards told BioWorld International, ¿This is a nonexclusive license to Signature Tagged Mutagenesis [STM] and gives Anadis exclusive rights to any [novel] genes they identify, but only in H. pylori. In other words, it is a very thin salami slicing.

¿The money is not a huge sum, but it fits in with our business model. We want to focus on our own core vaccine program. [H. pylori] is an area where we don¿t have specific skills and the license is useful to generate early income.¿ Richards expects to sign more such licenses across a wide range of pathogens.

STM is a system for rapidly identifying virulence genes that are essential to the survival and replication of microbes during the disease process but not in the environment. Rather than knocking out one gene after another and separately testing the ability of each mutant bacterium to cause infection, STM makes it possible to generate and screen large numbers of mutants at a time. Each mutant is tagged with a DNA identifier, or signature, which can be used to identify those capable of replication.

Anadis, a specialist in H. pylori , has developed Pyloran, a therapeutic for treating these infections that is about to enter clinical trials. The company said using STM technology to develop a H. pylori vaccine will speed up the identification of target genes from more than several years to a few months.

Microscience itself is applying STM in three ways: knocking out the virulence gene to produce an attenuated bacteria for use as a vaccine; using the product of a virulence gene as a subunit vaccine; and using the protein the virulence gene switches on in the host as the target for antimicrobial drugs.

Using the technology the company has developed, five vaccines, the first of which, a single-dose oral typhoid vaccine, will enter a Phase I/II trial by the end of this year. ¿We will then put four further vaccines into the clinic in 2002,¿ Richards said.

These vaccines are for traveler¿s diarrhea and oral hepatitis B, meningitis B and neonatal group B streptococcus (the most common lethal infection in newborns).

This will push up cash burn, and Microscience, based in Wokingham, Berkshire, is now looking for another private round of funding. Richards did not want to say how much he is aiming to raise but said that while the company has enough cash to last until well into 2002, he expects to spend around #20 million in the next two years.

The company was founded in June 1997 with #2.5 million and raised a further #9 million in June 1999.