BioWorld International Correspondent

BORNHEIM, Germany - Schering AG and Apax Partners Funds agreed to spin off Schering's functional genomics subsidiary, metaGen GmbH.

Apax Partners Funds is purchasing 50 percent of metaGen's shares, providing Berlin-based metaGen an estimated EUR42 million (US$37.9 million) to start as it stands alone.

"MetaGen currently focuses on drug-target identification for oncology," Schering science spokesman Frank Richtersmeier told BioWorld International. "By laser they can cut off certain cancer cells from a tissue." He explained that in order to trace the targets of interest, metaGen compares gene expression in healthy genes to cancerous cells after the laser microdissection.

MetaGen was formed by Berlin-based Schering in 1996 to conduct genome research for pharmaceutical development. During the last four years, metaGen has investigated more than 10,000 cancer-relevant genes, identifying therapeutic approaches from its investigations. The idea is to push some of these approaches into clinical trials and partner them for development and an eventual launch, Schering said.

"In partnership with Apax Partners Funds, metaGen will develop, with consistency and focus, a leading biotech company with an emphasis on cancer therapy," metaGen board member Andri Rosenthal said in a prepared statement.

While metaGen focuses on cancer therapies and diagnosis, Schering's oncology strategy is more focused on solid tumors and leukemia, said the company's financial affairs spokesman, Friedrich von Heyl.

"The spin-off enables metaGen to fully develop its capabilities," he said, adding that the spinning out allows Schering to focus on its own four core business areas.

Schering will retain 43.5 percent of metaGen's shares, leaving metaGen's management holding 6.5 percent of the company. Rosenthal, responsible for research and development at metaGen, intends to purchase another 5 percent at the current valuation from Apax Partners Funds, to bring management's share total to 11.5 percent.

Besides Rosenthal, the new company will be led by Evangelia Vakalopoulou, chief development officer; Harald Hasselmann, chief financial officer; and a CEO not yet appointed. MetaGen's advisory committee will include Jörg Spiekerkötter and Björn Wallmark - both with Schering AG - Apax Partners representatives Tom Geimer and Stephen Thompson, as well as a representative of Rosenthal and an independent chairman.