BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Isogenica Ltd. has been formed with US$3 million in start-up funding to commercialize technology called molecular evolution as a tool for drug discovery.

Commercial director Simon Kerry told BioWorld International, "The $3 million gives us sufficient funding for two to three years, to get the science working well, establish a couple of collaborations and expand staff numbers from six to 15 to 20."

Molecular evolution differs from existing screening techniques in that rather than screening each molecule individually against the target, they all are thrown at the target at once. Isogenica's molecular libraries consist of polypeptides, which all are covalently linked to the DNA that encodes for them. After washing off nonbinding molecules, the ones that stick can be amplified using conventional PCR.

The entire system operates in vitro, leading to significant benefits over in vivo display technologies. In particular, constructing the library does not rely on bacterial transformation, and because the library size exceeds those that are currently possible, the ligands identified shower higher affinity. The system is amenable to automation.

Isogenica intends to develop a range of platform technologies, the first of which is called Covalent Display Technology (CDT). "We are talking to academic groups about complementary technologies, for example, evolving enzymes in solution. We want to become a leader in in vitro molecular evolution," said Kerry.

CDT also can be used in the discovery of small molecules.

"If you get, say, 10 to 50 different polypeptides that have different affinities for the target molecule, you can use that information to find small molecules that will also bind to the target," Kerry said. "While there is a lot of research in the area of small-molecule mimetics of polypeptides, they are difficult to find. We will make it easier because we have a bank of molecules and we know where the functional groups are."

Isogenica's technology was originally developed at the University of Oslo, Norway. It was being commercialized by Active Biotech AB, of Lund, Sweden, but following a restructuring was sold to the development team.

"We are all English born and bred, and so the logical thing was to set up the company in the UK," Kerry said. "We chose Cambridge because it is the largest hub for biotech development outside the U.S."

Active Biotech owns 20 percent of Isogenica.

Kerry said that Isogenica expects to announce its first licensee for the technology within the next six weeks, and another soon afterward. "We will license the technology in specific fields, but beyond these licenses we would prefer to have R&D collaborations where we take targets that may be associated with a disease and validate them."

Isogenica also will build its own portfolio, and intends to work first on antimicrobial peptides.

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