By Matthew Willett

Phytera Inc. and Gemin X Biotechnologies Inc. entered a research collaboration to find novel treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Worcester, Mass.-based Phytera gets an up-front technology access fee and research funding and could receive milestone payments and royalties from commercialized products. Privately held Phytera¿s president and CEO, Malcolm Morville, said Gemin X¿s apoptosis screens are intriguing to Phytera.

¿We¿ve developed some very unique chemical libraries, and we really like to expose that unique chemistry to as wide a variety of novel screens as we possibly can,¿ Morville told BioWorld Today. ¿Gemin X appeared to us to have an interesting and unique position in screens in apoptosis, and we thought it was a great idea to expose our chemistry to their unique apoptosis screening mechanisms and see if we come up with something that can make a difference.¿

Gemin X, of Montreal, gets access to Phytera¿s ExPAND plant cell culture extracts and proprietary marine microorganism extracts for screening in Gemin X proprietary apoptosis assay systems. Phytera also will provide its natural product chemistry expertise for isolation and structural characterization.

Gemin X, also privately held, will be responsible for downstream profiling, lead optimization, development and commercialization activities. Its president and CEO, Dan Giampuzzi, said the deal to access Phytera¿s technology is attractive.

¿We¿re always looking to work with groups that have interesting libraries and chemistries that are suitable for our small-molecule discovery efforts,¿ Giampuzzi told BioWorld Today. ¿Phytera seems to be a very appealing company in that regard, and they¿re good people to work with. In our view, the future in biotechnology is doing collaborations of this type, because no one company can have all the technology and resources required to move forward. In our view more of these have to happen in order for biotechnology to grow.¿

Phytera¿s technology makes use of plant cells and, to a smaller extent, marine microorganisms, and those cells¿ ability to react to stresses and stimuli. Plant cells, Morville explained, have all the genetic material needed to differentiate into any type of cell necessary, a condition called totipotency.

¿By hitting this totipotent cell with a wide variety of stimuli and motivations you can get it to express a greater proportion of its chemical diversity and genetic diversity,¿ he said. ¿In culture we can hit them with motivations that simulate [environmental changes]. We can hit them with genetic motivations, sock them with hormone changes, nutrient conditions, heat, or light, infect them with invading organisms or pseudo-infect them. We really beat them up, nourish them and cajole them and stimulate them in as many different ways as we can to get them to express as many different genes and chemistries as they possibly can.¿

Giampuzzi said he would like to have a compound selected within a year of the collaboration, and one in the clinic within two years.

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