By Brady Huggett

Oasis Biosciences Inc., nearly four years after its founding and a month after its Series A financing, is realizing it can apply its lead technology, GeneLead, to both diagnostics and drug discovery.

San Diego-based Oasis closed a $7 million, milestone-conditioned Series A private placement in late March. GeneScan-Europe AG, of Freiburg, Germany, led the financing and Artisan Ventures Ltd. participated.

The company was founded in late 1997 by three men: Bob Brown, Timothy Riley and Lyle Arnold. They had worked together at Genta Inc., of Berkeley Heights, N.J., for about five years but left the firm simultaneously.

¿We were all sort of going our separate ways for a while,¿ said Bob Brown, head of biology research and development at privately held Oasis. ¿In our typical scientific chat, we hit on a couple of key ideas that had never occurred to us before.¿ Namely, they realized they could take oligonucleotides and create a rational combinatorial approach to gene therapy. Now all they needed was a name.

¿The field of antisense was sort of like a desert when we were founding the company,¿ Brown said. ¿Obviously, what do you need when you are in the desert? You need an oasis. Our first criteria [for a name] was nothing with an X¿, a Z¿, or any bio.¿ We went from there.¿

The group incorporated and secured lab space, funding their early activities by doing consulting for other companies as well as investing some of their own money. The $7 million Series A is divided into two parts, said Brown ¿ a designated amount supplied up front and the rest contingent on ¿straightforward milestones.¿

While Brown said fundraising is ¿always in the works,¿ he said all Series B activities have been informal thus far, and the company had other options to weigh as well.

Its technology, GeneLead, consists of two deconvoluted combinatorial oligonucleotide fragment libraries that will allow inhibitory oligonucleotides to be assembled one at a time from a few thousand library members.

Oasis has four employees, but has five positions open and is actively recruiting. Brown said the company would like to hire up to 15 new employees by the end of 2001. The progress the company has made in the past year has opened new doors.

¿We¿ve taken our original concepts and proven them in multiple settings and refined them an incredible amount,¿ Brown said. ¿In the process of doing that, we¿ve discovered completely new applications for it. The major one is diagnostic. Right now we are talking to as many diagnostic companies as we are for target validation. And the most encouraging thing about that is they have approached us as opposed to vice versa.¿

Brown said Oasis is in discussion with four companies, and would like to sign at least two deals in the near future. And the technology will be improved in the year to come.

¿Within 12 months, we¿ll complete the implementation of libraries and the automation to make this a very high-throughput process,¿ Brown said. ¿It¿s begun now, and we¿ll have it completed by the end of the year.¿

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