Quark Biotech Inc. and AstraZeneca plc entered a collaborative agreement focusing on a search for cancer drug targets using QBI’s BiFar technology.

Under the agreement, QBI is providing 100 genes/proteins to AstraZeneca, and they will validate those that are functional. AstraZeneca will have the right to select and license a certain number of target genes and proteins for development. Any that remain can be used by QBI in its drug development efforts. AstraZeneca, based in London, has exclusive worldwide rights to commercialize products generated from the collaboration.

Privately held QBI will receive research and development funding and milestone payments, as well as any product royalties, but specifics were not disclosed.

“It’s a very nice number,” said Daniel Zurr, CEO and founder of QBI.

Zurr said the real significance of the collaboration to QBI is that it pairs it with a well-established company in the area of cancer research and one that is a world leader in genomics. Cancer also is one of the areas of research for QBI, along with fibrosis, cardiovascular and ischemic diseases, stroke, bone and cartilage disease, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as obesity and diabetes.

The goal of the collaboration with AstraZeneca is to find “a druggable genoprotein” among those tested, Zurr said. He said there are an “amazing number” of functional genes, and that the definition is somewhat ambiguous.

“In principle, each one of them can be the basis to develop a drug,” Zurr said. “The goal is to find a real winner. Together with Astra we are going to find the winners, because you can’t go to clinical studies with 100. We eventually hope to develop a blockbuster that will be utilized for more than one cancer.”

AstraZeneca also will have an option to go beyond this initial phase with QBI, to include discovery of additional novel targets for oncology drug development, but this would necessitate a new financial arrangement, Zurr said.

A steering committee made up of equal numbers of QBI and AstraZeneca members will guide the process and have the authority to change priorities.

QBI, based in Cleveland, has entered into collaborations with other companies, but until now, most of its efforts have been targeting genes in-house.

“With the others, we start with a disease we agree on a disease,” Zurr said. “Here, we develop the target genes beforehand.”

QBI has entered collaborations with The Perkin-Elmer Corp., Applied Biosystems Division; Mitsubishi-Tokyo Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd.; Sankyo Co. Ltd.; Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.; and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (where QBI’s headquarters are being built), among others.

In May, Mitsubishi made an equity investment in QBI as part of its Series F financing, based on their successful collaboration. The companies are collaborating to develop drug targets in neurodegeneration. The collaboration has been broadened recently to discover genes that are related to other diseases.

QBI said in August that Taisho, of Tokyo, made an equity investment in the company, also as part of QBI’s Series F financing. The companies are collaborating on projects to discover the genes that cause kidney disease and to develop a therapeutic treatment. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

As a result of these collaborations, QBI has a diagnostic for cancer in clinical study, a growth factor for bone in the preclinical stage, and a small molecule for the alleviation of the side effects of chemotherapy in an advanced preclinical stage, Zurr said.

QBI’s BiFar platform allows it to knock out, or eliminate, every protein in a targeted tissue and look for the importance of this protein in a specific disease. And it can do this without knowledge of the structure or sequence of proteins, eliminating them one at a time to gauge the effect on the disease, Zurr said. The technology can determine the location of the proteins without knowing the sequence.

“[We] do everything in the complete dark,” Zurr said.

“It is a vertically integrated company, and we have about 300 scientists,” Zurr said, noting that the company is also doing work with embryonic stem cells. In addition to Cleveland, QBI has research facilities in the Weizman Science Park in Ness-Ziona, Israel, and Chicago. QBI was founded in 1994.

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