PARIS - UroGhne SA entered into a research collaboration with SynerGenomics Inc., of Toronto, for the identification of genes associated with the contraction and progression of prostate cancer. The two-year agreement calls for the two sides to conduct genetic studies of six key chromosomal regions discovered by UroGhne from its patient data bank.

SynerGenomics will contribute its disease gene discovery expertise and draw on a network of laboratories around the world for commissioning high-throughput genotyping, sequencing and genetic analysis studies, while UroGhne will use its functional genomics platform to validate and further evaluate putative drug targets and diagnostic probes. UroGhne will retain exclusive ownership of all commercial applications of the genes discovered within the collaboration. SynerGenomics will receive service fees from UroGhne, as well as milestone payments for the prostate cancer genes discovered.

UroGhne's CEO, Philippe Berthon, declined to reveal the financial details of the deal. And, while disclosing that UroGhne completed its first funding round in September, he refused to say how much was raised. Sociiti Ginirale Asset Management was the lead investor, and other participants included "eight or nine American and European venture capital funds and private investors." Berthon said he already is starting to prepare the next funding round, scheduled in 12 to 18 months.

UroGhne, which is based at Ginoptle, France's national biotechnology science and business park in Evry, was set up in March 1998 to develop the discoveries of the French Center for Research on Prostate Pathologies (CeRePP), which had localized a gene responsible for inherited (familial) predisposition to prostate cancer on chromosome 1. Epidemiological studies indicated that 20 percent of prostate cancer patients had an inherited predisposition in their family. UroGhne licensed the intellectual property rights to these discoveries and will pay royalties to CeRePP for their exploitation.

The company's primary mission is to identify and corroborate the pathological function of novel biological targets in prostate cancer for the development of more effective therapies and diagnostic/prognostic devices. While its research is mainly focused on prostate cancer, it also is targeting other urological diseases, including bladder cancer and benign prostate hypertrophy.

Berthon said that UroGhne is pursuing a three-fold strategy. It aims to identify leads from the targets it is working on with a view to taking them into preclinical and then clinical development following the next funding round. "In three years we will have something credible to take into the clinic," he said. Secondly, it is continuing to develop its diagnostic kits, which are in clinical trials. A multicenter Phase II clinical trial is due to begin in France in early November. Finally, UroGhne is negotiating pharmacogenomics agreements with pharmaceutical companies; Berthon expects the first to be signed early next year.

UroGhne has financed its activities through research and development agreements with big pharma, giving its partners access to its functional genomics analysis technology and receiving fees and milestone payments in exchange. Its technology platform includes proprietary developmental and etiological tools developed by CeRePP, such as UroSignal, which mimics physiological reactions to insult at different developmentally or pathologically relevant stages; UroAtlas, which is designed to fill in an array of related molecules around a gene candidate; and UroTraces, which catalogues the expression of urologically focused sets of proteins to circumvent complicated test protocols.

UroGhne noted that prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death in men in Europe, and the leading cause in males over 70. The disease strikes 35 European males per 100,000 each year, and the morbidity rate is increasing by 10 per 100,000 every decade.

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