BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - GenOdyssee SA filed patent applications in Europe and the United States to protect a new method it has developed for rapidly identifying natural genetic variants in the world population, for which it is possible to demonstrate a direct role in the variability of gene expression and/or function.

The company specializes in the functional analysis of these variants, otherwise known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), and operates Europe's leading high-throughput SNP genotyping platform at its research center in the Les Ulis science and technology park southwest of Paris. The facility's capacity is due to be expanded this month from 10,000 to 30,000 genotypes per day.

GenOdyssee established the efficacy of its methodology in several months of tests on 20 genes coding for cytokines. It succeeded in identifying four functional SNPs that modify the activity of the genes carrying them by more than 20 percent, and in one case by more than 50 percent. Its patent application seeks not only to protect this method, but also describes the diagnostic and therapeutic applications of the drug candidates discovered through its use on a representative sample of the world population.

GenOdyssee CEO Jean-Louis Escary said the advantage of this method is that it quickly identifies those SNPs that have the greatest therapeutic potential out of the millions discovered on the human genome. He added that it generated functional information on SNPs that would be a major asset in intellectual property terms, since it opened the way to obtaining patents for these relevant genetic markers. He also stressed the economic efficiency of GenOdyssee's "biological and functional approach to the genome," since it yielded a success rate of 20 percent (four relevant functional SNPs having been discovered on the 20 genes studied).

On the strength of what it described as the "extremely encouraging results," GenOdyssee plans to apply the method to 45 cytokine-bearing genes before the end of March, and to about 100 more by the end of the year, enabling it to file further patent applications for potential therapeutic targets by 2002. At a later stage, the company said it will need to validate the status of these functional mutations as therapeutic targets by conducting genotyping studies on DNA samples from people who either have the mutations or are resistant to them, using its data bank of cytokine-bearing genes.

GenOdyssee, which was established in October 1999 and completed an initial funding round last June that netted it EUR8 million (US$7.7 million) from a group of French venture capitalists, describes itself as a post-genomics research company that is seeking to discover genetic mutations indicating predisposition and/or resistance to various common diseases.

It already offers third-party access to its proprietary techniques for identifying genomic profiles that have a positive or negative interaction with therapeutic compounds in clinical trials, and now plans to make its cytokine data bank available to certain pharmaceutical companies that are developing therapeutic compounds in the field of cytokines. To that end, it aims to negotiate nonexclusive licenses limited to one or more pathologies related to cytokine activity.