PARIS ¿ A French biotechnology start-up specialized in the discovery of genes associated with complex genetic diseases has completed an initial funding round in which it raised EUR6.3 million (US$5.4 million).
Called IntegraGen, the company was founded in July 2000, although it only really became operational in March, according to CEO Jean-Luc Gerbier. The funds were provided by four European venture capital funds, three headquartered in Paris ¿ CDC Innovation 2000, GenAvent and BioAm ¿ as well as Bay Tech, of Munich, Germany.
IntegraGen, which is based at the Ginoptle, France¿s national biotechnology science and business park at Evry, south of Paris, is focusing its research on metabolic diseases ¿ obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The company was spawned by the National Genotyping Center in Evry, from which its integrated technology platform, GenomeHIP (for Genome Hybrid Identity Profiling), is licensed.
GenomeHIP can analyze the whole of the genome in a single experiment without a hypothesis of the disease mechanism, enabling it to identify all the loci where genes associated with particular diseases are present. When comparing two genomes, it identifies all the regions that are sequence-identical between them. Whereas SNP or microsatellite studies use individual markers, the GenomeHIP method identifies all the variations between two DNAs with an in vitro allele scoring, which selectively enriches for DNA sequences that are identical. This is comparable to simultaneously typing all 3 million SNPs that may exist between individuals in a single experiment. The identical regions of the two genomes are then selected and scored.
IntegraGen said that this technology, combined with sophisticated bioinformatics techniques, enables it to discover the genes associated with complex diseases far more rapidly and accurately than is possible using traditional methods. Gerbier told BioWorld International that the company had a worldwide exclusive license to exploit this technology in any field. Stressing that the technology had universal application, he said it could be used to analyze the genomes of plants and animals as well as humans. IntegraGen intends to concentrate on human applications, and would license out the technology to companies engaged in plant and animal genomics research.
As well as conducting in-house research and development programs to discover drug targets in its specialist therapeutic area, IntegraGen is to negotiate collaborations with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for the identification of genes associated with other diseases. It also plans to give third parties access to its technology under fee-for-service contracts to provide it with a source of revenue in the short term. Gerbier said its initial funding would keep the company going for 18 to 24 months, depending on the buildup in revenues. A second funding round is envisaged within that time span.
Further down the road, IntegraGen plans to negotiate research/development collaborations with companies specialized in proteomics and the like, but Gerbier said it was too early to say whether the company would take its drug candidates into clinical development and beyond. ¿Our current business program goes as far as the therapeutic target and the final product,¿ he said, adding that he was confident of achieving ¿significant results¿ in time for the second funding round.