PARIS - The French companies GenOdyssee SA and UroGhne SA entered a two-year research collaboration for the discovery of genetic markers in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that indicate a predisposition to prostate cancer in certain male subjects.

The object is to provide UroGhne with information that will help it develop new therapeutic compounds and diagnostic/prognostic tools for the disease.

Both companies sprang from France's national biotechnology research and business park at Evry, south of Paris, although GenOdyssee's research and development center is located at a nearby science and technology park, Les Ulis, where it operates Europe's leading high-throughput SNP genotyping platform.

The agreement calls for UroGhne, which specializes in genetic research into urological diseases, to provide GenOdyssee with a list of relevant candidate genes for studying genetic predisposition to prostate cancer in the male population. GenOdyssee will analyze the coding and regulating areas of these genes in a cohort of patients suffering from prostate cancer in order to discover the functional modifications indicative of a genetic predisposition to the disease in these patients, while UroGhne will carry out validation and functional genomics studies of the genes identified.

UroGhne will pay GenOdyssee an unspecified amount in fees and milestones for its discovery, SNP genotyping, bioinformatics and statistical services, as well as royalties on the new products developed and commercialized as a result of this collaboration. The CEO of UroGhne, Philippe Berthon, told BioWorld International that it made no sense to put a figure on the deal since, although it included a minimum commitment, the actual amount could be a lot higher. For one thing, the term of the collaboration could well be extended beyond the initial two years, and for another, "the happier we are with the collaboration, the more we will commit ourselves financially," said Berthon. "The first products developed with GenOdyssee could enter the industrial phase within 24 to 36 months," he went on, while in the particular case of "causal targets for therapeutic uses, we could go into drug design in 18 months."

UroGhne's vocation is to identify and corroborate the pathological function of novel biological targets in prostate cancer and other urological diseases for the development and optimization of new therapies and diagnostic/prognostic devices. The agreement with GenOdyssee is the second it has signed within a month for gaining access to high-throughput analytical facilities that are outside its particular sphere of competence. At the end of October it signed an agreement with SynerGenomics Inc., of Toronto, for the identification of genes associated with the contraction and progression of prostate cancer. The two companies are to conduct genetic studies of six key chromosomal regions discovered by UroGhne from its patient data bank, while UroGhne will use its functional genomics platform to validate and further evaluate putative drug targets and diagnostic probes.

Berthon pointed out that the SNP data derived from its collaboration with GenOdyssee also would have applications in the field of pharmacogenomics. He said UroGhne already is negotiating a partnership in this area and he hoped an agreement would be signed within three months. In September, UroGhne completed its first funding round, in which it raised an undisclosed sum from a number of European and American venture capital funds and private investors led by Paris-based Sociiti Ginirale Asset Management.

At GenOdyssee, which also completed an initial funding round in June in which it raised EUR8 million (US$7.7 million) from a group of French venture capitalists, CEO Jean-Louis Escary told BioWorld International that the deal with UroGhne was not simply a fee-for-service contract but a genuine research collaboration, insofar as GenOdyssee had a stake in the results through the milestones and royalties it stood to receive. But he stressed that, in technological terms, it was strictly an "outsourcing" contract insofar as there would be no transfer of know-how or technology.

GenOdyssee is specialized in the functional analysis of SNPs, and its genotyping facility currently has a capacity of 10,000 genotypes per day, which is due to be increased to 30,000 genotypes a day by January. It also 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.