BioWorld International Correspondent

JERUSALEM - Start-up IDgene Pharmaceuticals Ltd. concluded its second financing round, totaling $7.65 million. Leading participants in the fund-raising effort were APAX Partners and the Jerusalem-based venture capital firm Israel Seed Partners, which had invested $500,000 in the first round a year ago.

Company founder Ariel Darvasi, a professor of genetics in the Division of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said, "The money is designated for supporting research begun at the end of 2000, which requires doubling our staff of 20 people, and for purchase of SNP detection systems, the backbone of our activity in defining genetic variability within a population and the markers that can be used to study specific groups of people."

Darvasi, also company president and chief scientific officer, told BioWorld International, "Limited genetic variation within a genetically homogeneous population helps reduce the genetic background noise, which can cloud studies." Data collection of some 1,000 samples per disease for 17 polygenetic diseases (including asthma, heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and schizophrenia) began in October using IDgene's proprietary technology for the identification of relative susceptibility, as well as population variation in drug response.

Tests on human tissue samples are being run for 15 diseases simultaneously, and the expectation is that all the necessary information about these diseases will be obtained within 12 to 18 months.

"One advantage is that for now we are focusing on an ethnic group with very low genetic variance, the 2 million Ashkenazi Jews in Israel, Jews of Eastern European descent who originated from a few thousand individuals about 500 years ago in Ashkenaz, Germany," said Darvasi.

The Jerusalem-based company's business model is based on its wet lab analysis of DNA samples, and the anticipated sale of this information, for diagnostics and possibly in the future for applications in the development of new medicines.

Doron Lancet, a member of IDgene's scientific advisory board and head of the Crown Human Genome Center at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, where Israel's Human Genome Project is based, said that "SNP-association studies allow random sampling of the human population with direct comparison of specific genetic markers, a likely strategy considering IDgene's systematic large-scale approach."

The company plans later to develop additional research fields for other populations and pathologies.