Sequitur Inc. and Discovery Genomics, both privately held, have entered a pact focused on screening antisense compounds to elucidate gene function in zebra fish.

The agreement joins Sequitur’s antisense compounds and high-throughput gene expression analysis with Discovery Genomics’ focus on zebra fish functional genomics.

Under the terms of the agreement, Sequitur, of Natick, Mass., will retain rights to discoveries of gene function in the areas of bone, hematopoiesis and obesity. Discovery Genomics, of Minneapolis, will retain rights relating to the balance of vertebrate disease studies in the zebra fish model.

Neither company returned phone calls.

The zebra fish antisense system allows rapid and relatively inexpensive knockdown of a gene, which permits evaluation of phenotype in the fish embryo in a matter of weeks, the companies said in prepared materials. More than 90 percent of the zebra fish genes have human homologues, such as genes for insulin, hemoglobin, VEGF, myostatin, thyroid hormone receptors, leptin and erythropoietin.

In a prepared release, Sequitur said the deal, which lets it keep some rights to gene function discoveries and target validation, makes a good “complement to [the company’s] services business.”

Also in the release, Discovery Genomics President and CEO John Haaland said Sequitur’s “strong intellectual properties, position and leadership role in antisense technology [were key factors] in forming this collaboration.”

Sequitur’s other clients include Incyte Genomics Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif.; Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Pharmacia Inc., of Kalamazoo, Mich.; GlaxoSmithKline plc, of London; Genome Therapeutics Corp., of Waltham, Mass.; Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York; Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.; Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, part of the Proctor & Gamble Co., of Cincinnati; and Rigel Pharmaceutical Inc., of South San Francisco.

In August, Sequitur agreed to provide Rigel access to its antisense functional genomics technology, with collaborative research performed at Sequitur and Rigel paying research support, antisense material charges and licensing fees.

For its part, Discovery Genomics, also in August, entered into a research and license deal with Techne Corp., of Minneapolis, receiving a $3 million investment from Techne. Discovery Genomics holds exclusive licenses from the University of Minnesota to develop technologies related to knockdowns in zebra fish using its proprietary technologies.

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