Belgian functional genomics firm Galapagos Genomics NV, of Mechelen, entered its first major alliance, with Incyte Genomics Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., to perform target discovery and validation studies on full-length gene sequences derived from the U.S. firm's LifeSeq Gold database.

The first phase of the collaboration involves screening 1,500 gene sequences against a range of cellular assays Galapagos has available in high-throughput format. "That should be done in the next nine months," Galapagos managing director Onno van de Stolpe told BioWorld International.

If this leg of the project proves successful, the partners will move onto a much bigger undertaking involving some 10,000 sequences. "That would be the largest collection in the world of full-length genes in expressed format," van de Stolpe said. The deal follows an earlier pilot involving 50 sequences. "That basically convinced them we could do the job. That's why we entered this collaboration," he said.

Galapagos Genomics was officially established as a joint venture between IntroGene and Tibotec NV of Mechlen, Belgium, in June last year (see BioWorld International, April 28, 1999). IntroGene subsequently merged with U-BiSys to form Crucell NV, of Leiden, the Netherlands, which is now the joint-venture partner.

Galapagos has exclusive rights to Crucell's PER.C6 human cell line expression platform for functional genomics applications. It uses PER.C6 in the generation of adenovirus-based human gene libraries. The resulting clones are introduced to cellular assay systems in order to link individual gene sequences with particular physiological functions.

Galapagos has a portfolio of 10 such assays that are available in high-throughput format, van de Stolpe said. These address four therapeutic areas - oncology, cardiovascular disease, blood disorders and bone formation. The company intends to develop five to 10 more assays, in partnership with academic collaborators, he said, and it aims to extend its reach into the areas of CNS disease and metabolic disorders.

The two partners also aim to open up the screening platform to pharmaceutical companies that have their own proprietary assays. In fact, selection of the first batch of genes for study was based on the degree of interest Incyte's pharmaceutical subscribers have shown in them to date, van de Stolpe said.

Galapagos also has generated its own cDNA library of 100,000 adenoviral constructs, derived from placenta tissue, for which it is seeking partners. The company received funding commitments from its founders of US$20 million for its first three years. It may seek further investment in the interim. "It is likely that we'll do a financing round sometime around the beginning of next year," van de Stolpe said.