By Rachelle H.B. Fishman

BioWorld International Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel ¿ Approaching its first birthday, Bio Information Technologies Ltd., a post-genomic computational drug discovery company focusing on G protein-coupled receptor-related diseases, raised US$7.8 million in its first round of financing.

Primary investors ¿ New York based-OrbiMed Advisors LLC, Yozma Management and Investment Ltd. in Tel Aviv, and Fred Frank, vice chairman of Lehman Brothers Investment Bank in New York ¿ are looking for Bio IT to develop a fully integrated structure-based approach to GPCR drug discovery and to find novel drugs directed against GPCR-related diseases.

Silvia Noiman, Bio IT¿s chief operating officer, founded the company with Haim Aviv, Oren Becker and Ramot, the Authority for Applied Research and Industrial Development Ltd. of Tel Aviv University, in November 2000.

Noiman said that while the approximately 2,000 different GPCR proteins represent only 2 percent to 3 percent of the human genome, they are a major focus of drug discovery, constituting about half of the drug targets of interest to the pharmaceutical industry. GPCR receptors mediate signal transmission across the cell membrane.

Ramat Gan, Israel-based Bio IT¿s technology was developed by Becker, a professor of computational chemistry, and colleague Sharon Shacham at the university. It is based on three proprietary elements: a set of de novo computational algorithms (called Predict) to predict the 3-dimensional structure of any GPCR receptor, technology for high-throughput computational screening, and technology for designing virtual molecular libraries.

Becker, Bio IT¿s chief technology officer and scientist, told BioWorld International, ¿Our combined technology overcomes the limitations of existing models. Our major advantage is that we can use just the protein primary sequence as input to define 3-D structure, making this method a true bridge from the genome to drugs.¿

Becker said Bio IT¿s Predict technology follows a ¿different and novel pathway to determine the 3D structure of GPCRs that is based on the specific chemical-physical properties of the GPCR molecules¿ while actually ¿taking advantage of the fact that these molecules are membrane embedded. The 3D models generated by Bio IT¿s computational technology are at a detailed atomic level, suitable for structure-based drug discovery. Using [Predict], we have successfully completed 30 models of GPCRs from a wide variety of subclasses,¿ he said.

Aviv, chairman of Bio IT and considered by many the father of biotechnology in Israel, said, ¿This novel computational approach of Bio IT has the potential of significantly changing the way drug discovery will be practiced in the future.

¿This fund raising goes well beyond a vote of confidence,¿ Aviv said. ¿It enables us to advance our discovery operations, increase our staff, and establish a U.S office in Boston, planned for later this year. And, it will give us the material and human resources to work with pharmaceutical and biotech companies on joint collaborations.¿

From this base of international operations, the company plans to expand its screening efforts to find novel compounds against the GPCR receptors and develop discovery programs from in silico hits to lab-tested drug leads.