By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

In its largest gene functionalization deal to date, Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc.¿s GeneTrove division will identify the roles of more than 200 novel genes for Celera Genomics.

Celera, an Applera Corp. business in Rockville, Md., will select which genes are studied and GeneTrove will perform the work using its proprietary High Throughput Gene Functionalization system. The genes will be evaluated for their roles in cancer, angiogenesis, inflammation and metabolic diseases.

¿The Human Genome Project has put a tremendous premium on being able to rapidly sift through a gene sequence and identify those genes that represent the best therapeutic opportunities,¿ Stanley Crooke, chairman and CEO of Isis, said in a conference call Monday. ¿This is a challenge that is substantial for the industry and we believe that the unique qualities of antisense have created a tremendous opportunity for Isis and as a result we formed GeneTrove to take advantage of this.¿

Craig Venter, Celera¿s president and chief scientific officer, is one of two scientists credited with leading the mapping of the human genome. The other is Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

¿Celera is terrific at isolating genes. However, the next step is functionalization of those genes ¿ what do those genes do ¿ and Isis is an expert at translating genes to RNA,¿ Mark Monane, vice president for biotechnology at Needham & Co. in New York, told BioWorld Today. ¿So now you have Celera¿s DNA and Isis¿ RNA ¿ it¿s a nice marriage.¿

GeneTrove is the functional genomics division of Isis, an antisense therapeutics drug discovery company formed 12 years ago in Carlsbad, Calif.

¿Antisense today is widely accepted to be one of the most rapid methods of determining the role of genes in human cells as well as the role of genes in human disease and a very effective means of validating whether a specific gene is an effective drug discovery target,¿ Crooke said. ¿We believe it is highly competitive and we believe GeneTrove is a major entry into the gene functionalization target validation business opportunity.¿

Rick Brown, vice president of Isis and president of GeneTrove, said the 18-month collaboration is a ¿powerful, synergistic pairing that should yield great rewards.¿

He would not discuss financial details of the deal, but said Isis will maintain rights to develop antisense drugs from the genes and Celera will have the right to select up to 10 percent of the genes as exclusive targets in developing therapeutic agents.

Data collected through the study will be commercialized through GeneTrove¿s Human Gene Function Database, and revenue generated by the licensing will be shared equally by Celera and Isis.

Crooke said the deal will help Isis reach its goal of inhibiting 1,600 to 2,000 genes in total this year, and functionalizing 10,000 genes in four years.

The agreement represents ¿the next generation of deals for Isis,¿ said Monane. ¿They¿ve had partnerships that were 10 or 20 genes, but this is 200 genes.¿

Isis has smaller deals with Abbott Laboratories, of Abbott Park, Ill.; Johnson & Johnson, of New Brunswick, N.J.; and Aventis Pharma AG, of Frankfurt, Germany.

Isis has commercialized its first product, Vitravene (fomivirsen) to treat CMV-induced retinitis in AIDS patients. The company has 11 other products in its pipeline with two in late-stage development and four in Phase II clinical trials. ISIS 3521, an inhibitor of PCK-alpha, is in Phase III trials for non-small-lung cancer and the company is planning to start a Phase III program for ISIS 2302 (alicaforsen), an ICAM-1 inhibitor, in Crohn¿s disease.

Celera¿s stock (NYSE:CRA) closed Monday at $31.02, down $2.98, on a down day for biotech stocks. Isis (NASDAQ:ISIP) closed at $12.08, up 18 cents.

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