By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Sangamo BioSciences Inc., Exelixis Inc. and Artemis Pharmaceuticals GmbH entered an agreement to combine technologies to produce an advanced modeling system using a new way to produce knockout mice for functional gene validation.

The collaboration will combine each company's proprietary technologies to create models in which specific disease-related genes may be turned on and off in a regulated fashion.

"The most common method for looking at gene function in mice right now is to knock out the gene," said Casey Case, vice president of research at Richmond, Calif.-based Sangamo. "But that is a lengthy process and it doesn't always work. It is being used all over the world because until now it was the only way to do the experiment."

But the problem with that technology, Case says, is that it is time consuming and essential genes must be preserved in order for the mouse to develop.

"[The new process] will circumvent that problem," Case said. "We will add a new transcription factor to the mouse instead of the complicated process of physically disrupting the gene. We are highly confident."

The new model will increase the speed and scalability of working with knockout mice, said Glen Sato, chief financial officer at South San Francisco-based Exelixis.

While Sangamo's expertise in gene regulation can be used to turn on and off a specific gene, Exelixis and Artemis are focused on the development of genetic modeling systems, including fruit flies, nematode worms, zebrafish and mice.

The three companies joined forces in the venture because "people in this industry are always looking for ways to augment and extend the power of their technology," said Julie Wood, Sangamo's director of corporate communications. "I think talking with Exelixis and Artemis, we saw an opportunity to do just that."

Exelixis owns about 15 percent of Cologne, Germany-based Artemis, and helped found the company in 1997.

Sato said the two companies oftentimes work on a collaborative basis, and in the instance with Sangamo, "we will assist on a technical basis because of our knowledge of model systems."

The arrangement, he said, "is a technology-sharing arrangement where each party will bear its own expenses."

Wood said each company will work from its own facilities, and further financial details have not been negotiated.

Sangamo is focused on the research and development of novel transcription factors for the regulation of gene expression. The company's Universal Gene Recognition technology enables the engineering of transcription factors known as zinc finger DNA binding proteins, or ZFPs. By engineering ZFPs so that they can recognize a specific site on a specific gene, Sangamo has created ZFP transcription factors that can control gene expression and, consequently, cell function.

Exelixis works primarily in life sciences industries and product development through comparative genomics and model system genetics. These technologies provide a way to move from DNA sequence data to knowledge about the function of genes and the proteins they encode.

Artemis uses zebrafish and mice as genetic model organisms to identify and functionally validate novel genes in vivo. These genes can be used as novel screening targets, or as the basis for secreted proteins in clinically and commercially relevant diseases.

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