By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Sequenom Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline plc struck a multimillion-dollar deal that is expected to result in the availability of 400,000 SNP assays by the end of the year.

Sequenom, of San Diego, has been engaged in an ongoing project to generate a genome-wide SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) assay portfolio to screen the human genome for genes associated with diseases and adverse drug reactions. The validated SNP assay portfolio, in conjunction with Sequenom¿s MassARRAY technology, allows for the screening of every gene in the human genome and in many individuals, the company said.

Toni Schuh, Sequenom¿s president and CEO, told BioWorld Today that GSK will identify 50 percent of the SNP candidates as part of the deal, and Sequenom will select the other half. ¿We are doing all the work and we will retain the commercial rights to the SNP assay portfolio that we generate so we can sell it to other customers as we wish,¿ Schuh said.

¿Glaxo will pay us a significant amount of money to get access to that SNP assay portfolio for their internal research purposes and, because they are the first, they also enjoy the privilege of nominating a significant portion of the candidates,¿ he said.

And what does this mean for Sequenom? Schuh said Sequenom will be the first company that holds the technology to run high-density genome-wide screens in large populations.

To understand the magnitude and significance of the project, Schuh compared it to The SNP Consortium¿s announcement the day before that it had hired Celera Genomics, Applied Biosystems and Motorola Life Sciences to map 2,000 SNPs.

¿If you have a portfolio of 1 million SNPs, it means nothing; you cannot use it,¿ Schuh said. ¿But you can use a portfolio for a few hundred thousand SNP assays.¿

Charles Cantor, Sequenom¿s chief scientific officer, added that the real chore is to ¿figure out which SNPs are real. Only roughly half of them turn out to be real. You have to develop an assay that lets you study robustly in a large number of people ¿ that¿s where the work is.¿

Approximately 1.5 million unconfirmed SNP candidates were placed into the public domain by The SNP Consortium. The consortium is a nonprofit group consisting of pharmaceutical companies and research institutions charged with creating and making publicly available a high-quality SNP map of the human genome.

GlaxoSmithKline, of London, is a member of the consortium.

Sequenom, a genomics company, designs and processes assays for SNP candidates for assay validation and SNP confirmation in human reference populations.

Within the next month, Sequenom¿s merger with Gemini Genomics plc, of Cambridge, UK, is expected to be approved by the High Court of Justice in England and Wales. The companies are merging through a stock-swap deal valued at $238 million. (See BioWorld Today, May 30, 2001.)

Recently, Sequenom and Morphochem AG, of Munich, Germany, entered an agreement that focuses on discovery and development of next-generation therapeutics for the treatment of Type II diabetes mellitus and cancer. (See BioWorld Today, June 8, 2001.)

Sequenom¿s stock (NASDAQ:SQNM) closed Wednesday at $9, up 70 cents.