Functional genomics firm Medical Molecular Research Cologne (Memorec) is seeking between US$10 million and US$15 million in its second financing round, which it hopes to close by early October, CEO Boris Stoffel told BioWorld International.

The Cologne, Germany-based company, which was established in 1997, raised US$10.5 million two years ago. The German government's BioRegio program provided 45 percent of that funding, while the remainder came from a venture capital fund linked to the Cologne-based bank Kreissparkasse Koln AG.

Memorec has built an integrated genomics platform that enables it to perform genome-wide analyses. It currently has programs in the central nervous system and in metabolic diseases. It licensed Cambridge, Mass.-based Genzyme Corp.'s patented Serial Analysis of Gene Expression (SAGE) technology late last year, which it is using in its internal target identification programs and which it is offering as a service to European industry. It has combined this with its proprietary Parallel Identification and Quantification of RNAs (Piqor) array technology, which it uses to carry out further validation experiments on potentially interesting genes first identified with the SAGE system.

It aims to use part of the upcoming cash injection to build a high-throughput screening system around the Piqor technology. It already is developing the assay on which this will be based.

"Our strategy is to concentrate on low- and medium-density arrays, where you address the right genes with the right questions," Stoffel said. Its spending plans also include the construction of expression profile databases for fields such as toxicology, oncology and organ transplantation.

Genzyme's SAGE system, he said, offers a greater level of precision than alternative approaches based on differential display technology, which can yield false positives that require further validation. It is based on quantifying mRNA levels in the cell or tissue of interest by cloning and sequencing concatamers of cDNA. So far, it has signed two service deals based on the technology, with a biotechnology company and a consumer products company, both based in Germany.

Memorec currently has several research projects under way. One is based around knockout mice in which two alleles that encode glutamate transporters, enzymes associated with neurotoxicity, are deleted. Although two further copies of the gene remain, the company did not detect any phenotype resulting from the deletions.

"The hypothesis was there must be some sort of compensatory mechanism," Stoffel said. It is now validating about 20 genes that may play a role in regulating expression.

The company also has a lipid metabolism program, and has identified several ceramidases that display age-related expression patterns. "These enzymes could play a major role in different skin diseases," Stoffel said.

It also is collaborating with an unnamed pharmaceutical company in a project to validate a family of five proteins identified in silico, which have a potential association with Alzheimer's disease. A diabetes project is at an earlier stage.

In addition to Stoffel, Memorec's founding team includes Kay Hoffman, who heads its bioinformatics department; Marcus Conradt, head of gene discovery; and Andreas Bosio, who is responsible for the company's array technology. All previously held research positions at either Cologne or Munich university.

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