By Brady Huggett

Chemical genomics company NeoGenesis Inc. is building on its past relationship with Biogen Inc. and will use its proprietary technology to screen drug leads from Biogen¿s proteins.

The companies originally began working together in September 1998, with Biogen supplying the proteins then, too, and NeoGenesis doing the screening. The multiyear, multitarget expansion to their original agreement is layered over that original work, said Satish Jindal, president and chief scientific officer at NeoGenesis.

¿The past relationship we¿ve had with Biogen was a target identification, which belonged to a protein-protein interaction,¿ Jindal said. ¿We were successful in providing them with more than one lead, but [the companies] ultimately selected one. And we were able to provide them the leads in four to five months.¿

The speed at which NeoGenesis fulfilled its requirements and the complexity of the target that it provided to Biogen, Jindal said, helped seal the deal for the expansion. Biogen agreed that NeoGenesis has attractive capabilities.

¿We have found that [NeoGenesis] has a unique technology for rapidly identifying small-molecule ligands for new proteins,¿ Kathleen O¿Donnell, associate director, public affairs at Biogen, told BioWorld Today. ¿We have been very impressed not only with their technology but also with the quality of their staff. Based on that, we are going to go forward with them.¿

Neither side would discuss financial specifics of the deal, but Jindal said NeoGenesis receives both up-front and research and development funding. The deal includes potential milestone payments, and NeoGenesis would see royalties on any approved products. The companies are investigating ¿several¿ undisclosed indications, Jindal said.

While Biogen, of Cambridge, Mass., supplies the proteins to be screened and will pay for any development costs, NeoGenesis, also of Cambridge, will do the chemistry screening and optimization of leads.

Founded in March 1997, privately held NeoGenesis has raised about $40 million to date, including $23 million in its Series D financing in January. Jindal said the company should be announcing ¿two or three¿ collaborations in the coming month. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 9, 2001.)

Last month, it signed a collaboration with Oxford GlycoSciences plc, of Oxford, UK, to discover and develop small-molecule drugs against protein targets supplied by Oxford. NeoGenesis will get research funding and milestone payments and is entitled to royalties in that deal. Oxford acquired an undisclosed equity position in NeoGenesis.

NeoGenesis¿ success thus far has been credited to its Automated Ligand Identification System, or ALIS technology. The technology is designed to quickly screen large numbers of disease-associated targets.

¿We have built an impressive chemical library of 10 million highly diversified small molecules,¿ Jindal told BioWorld Today. ¿We take this library and we take the proteins and then, in a very automated way, we select small-molecule ligands with high affinity and high selectivity. These small ligands are developed as drug leads, but at the same time, these ligands will be used to dissect the function of proteins. This approach we call chemical genomics. We believe this is essential to exploit all the potential genomic targets.¿

Jindal said working with Biogen is ¿very important¿ to NeoGenesis, and for two reasons: the companies are focused on complex diseases, and Biogen has a proven track record. But while Jindal sees the potential for the two companies to stretch their relationship well into the future, he said NeoGenesis could help a lot of companies.

One of the problems with the genomics revolution, Jindal said, is the massive amount of data it is generating. The ALIS technology, however, can be a timesaver because it both provides leads and protein structure information, he said. The targets identified from the genomics data deluge will be linked to disease ¿in the next few years,¿ Jindal said, ¿but the function and structural understanding will not be available for many, many years. Our technology gives a heads up or a jump-start.¿

Biogen¿s stock (NASDAQ:BGEN) rose $1 Monday to close at $52.50.

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