By Matthew Willett

Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc. agreed to acquire privately held Bunsen Rush Laboratories Inc. lock, stock and barrel, opting to buy the whole weapon instead of licensing the bullets.

Arena President and CEO Jack Lief said the $15 million purchase is actually a better deal, since licensing the company's Melanophore technology would have been more expensive than an outright buy.

"I don't know why someone else didn't come along," Lief told BioWorld Today. "I guess we were just quicker. At first we thought we'd license this technology. It turns out it's so much cheaper to buy the company than to license the individual receptor technology, and that's our main business."

Dallas-based Rush's Melanophore technology identifies compounds that interact with cell surface receptors, including known and orphan G protein-coupled receptors and receptor tyrosine kinases, without fluorescent or radioactive screening techniques.

Arena plans to complete the transaction, subject to review by the parties, through its subsidiary, BRL Screening, in late January.

Arena, of San Diego, markets its CART technology for cell-surface receptor modulator identification. CART identifies the modulating molecules independent of ligand-distinguishing techniques through genetic alteration of the receptors.

It partners its CART technology with Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis; Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., of Osaka, Japan; Taisho Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., of Tokyo; Lexicon Genetics Inc., of The Woodlands, Texas; and Neurocrine Biosciences Inc., of San Diego.

Lief said the technology fits well with the company's existent modulator identification technology. He added that the shareholder benefits are both long and short term.

"It's a very high-throughput method, a very nice high-throughput system," he said. "It's very sensitive, and you don't need a lot of cells for each screen. There's savings there, and there also are savings in that we won't need to use radioactivity, which is difficult and expensive to dispose of."

He said the technology will also provide the company with further collaborative clout. Furthering its stance with alliances and partnerships is a high priority for Arena's future.

"We discover molecules at cell-surface receptors, and there are pharma and non-pharma applications for these molecules," Lief said. "We'll look very broadly both in the drug discovery area as well as in other areas, possibly related to ag-biology and other areas."

That kind of immediate revenue isn't the limit for the new addition to Arena's intellectual property portfolio, he said.

"I think we're going to make money in the first year and for the duration of the life of the patent," Lief said. "We wouldn't acquire the company if we felt this was a one-trick kind of pony. We're looking into this technology in lots of things we want to do."