BioWorld International Correspondent

BORNHEIM, Germany - Functional genomics by high-throughput screening is the business of Xantos Biomedicine GmbH, which officially launches operations Friday in ther German city of Martinsried.

"Our proprietary technology, XantoScreen, enables us to screen 20,000 different cDNAs per day for their functions in living cells," CEO Peter Buckel told BioWorld International. The company also intends to find and develop its own drugs and diagnostics, he said.

"Basically, we transfect cells with plasmids containing single cDNA. Then we read out the functional changes of the cells," Buckel said. "We have improved the readout system and automated the screening process. Now we could purify and check a whole library of human cDNA in 10 days. We are able to search the whole genome for functions we are interested in."

The technology can detect very weak signals, he said. "If we have the function of a gene, we check databases for correlations of the gene's sequence with disease."

Seventy genes coding for apoptosis, most of them unknown previously, are the company's first harvest brought in by the help of XantoScreen.

Most of the work was done in cooperation with the Munich-based Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Buckel said. Xantos researchers will now examine whether the apoptosis genes can be used as targets for drug discovery. Roche Diagnostics GmbH, of Mannheim, Germany, has the right for first negotiation for those 70 genes.

"Target finding is not our sole business," Buckel explained. "We can perform drug screening on the same machines which run XantoScreen. Thus, we provide a complete chain from gene to function and drug discovery, using worldwide databases.

"The technique could be used to find genes and chemicals improving agriculture as well. But we want to focus on pharmaceuticals and diagnostics."

In its seed-financing round last year, Xantos raised DM16 million (US$7.8 million). Investors were Global Life Science, of Munich; Alta Partners, of San Francisco; tbg, of Bonn; and BayKap, of Munich, said Buckel, who expects a second financing round to take place this year.

The company was founded in July 1999. Founders were Buckel, who previously held vice presidencies as head of biotechnology, pharmaceutical research and molecular medicine with Roche and Boehringer Mannheim; Ulrich Pessara and Stephan Wehselau, both previously at Roche and Boehringer Mannheim; and Stefan Grimm from Max Planck, who is the scientific founder and XantoScreen inventor.