By Matthew Willett

Lexicon Genetics Inc. disclosed the scale-up efforts under way in its gene knockout and functional analysis programs, programs aimed at finding the function of 5,000 genes in five years.

The initiative to improve its efforts for the discovery of new disease targets will focus on those proteins encoded by pharmaceutically valuable gene families, including the genes that encode receptors, ion channels, key enzymes and secreted proteins.

Lexicon¿s president and CEO, Arthur Sands, said ¿major¿ wasn¿t his choice to describe the scale-up. ¿Massive,¿ he said, would be more appropriate.

¿The motivation is that we now see that we can learn the function of the most pharmacologically valuable genes by using gene knockout technology, and scaling up rapidly, we aim to win the race in the gene function game,¿ he told BioWorld Today. ¿We recognized that in the post-genomic era it¿s function, function, function.¿

Lexicon will use its proprietary gene trapping technology and its gene-specific gene targeting program to pick the 5,000 genes for functional analysis, and Sands said his company is in a great position to do just that.

¿We¿re fully prepared, with the scientific team, the personnel, and we have the physical plant and the technology fueling this,¿ he said. ¿About half our genes going into this come from our gene-specific gene targeting program, and we¿ll have about half come from our Omnibank, which is our gene trapping technology, and that gives us the unique ability to operate on this scale. To my knowledge this is the world¿s largest reverse genetics study of druggable genes, period.¿

What it could mean, he said, is a vast expansion of the druggable targets available. Historically, he said, the entire industry has operated on a total of about 500 druggable targets.

¿From a business model standpoint what we¿re doing with these 5,000 genes is building a very strong horizontal platform from which we can build vertically along certain targets and disease categories,¿ Sands said.

For each gene targeted, he said, scientists will run a battery of tests including CAT scanning, immunological analysis using FACS and a complete histopathological review. ¿I like to call it a Mayo Clinic for Genes,¿ Sands quipped.

¿I think what we¿re seeing is a consensus that in vivo targeting needs to be up front in the discovery process, and Lexicon¿s drug discovery program operates with a unique knowledge of gene function up front before we move on the target for drug discovery,¿ Sands said.

That knowledge results in time and money saved downstream, he added.

¿If you have in vivo proof of function up front, that allows that downstream drug discovery activity to be much more effective, including more successful clinical trials and, ultimately, a higher rate of commercial success to bring the product to market.¿

Lexicon¿s stock (NASDAQ:LEXG) fell 10 cents to close at $8.10 Thursday.

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