PARIS - Transghne has received its first milestone payment of $1 million from Schering-Plough, with which it is engaged in a research collaboration to develop a new generation of adenoviral vectors for the transfer of the p53 tumor suppressor gene in particular.

The Strasbourg-based gene therapy company describes this as a "decisive" stage in its collaboration with Schering-Plough, with which it signed a research and licensing agreement in February 1998, giving the U.S. company rights to existing and future applications of adenoviral gene delivery systems developed by Transghne. Schering-Plough made an up-front payment of $8 million for an exclusive license to use Transghne adenoviral systems for delivering the p53 gene, followed by another $1.25 million in research and development funding during the first 15 months. It also has options for licensing Transghne technology to deliver five other unnamed genes, which it has until February 2003 to exercise. Should Kenilworth, N.J.-based Schering-Plough take up all these options, its payments to Transghne would total some $88 million.

In animal models carried out by Canji Inc., Schering-Plough's gene therapy center, Transghne's second-generation adenoviral vector was found to have an improved safety profile relative to the first generation, with reduced inflammation and toxicity. According to Transghne's deputy managing director and scientific director, Michael Courtney, '"the improved vector affords a very long duration of gene expression, as well as a heightened safety level. With its unique capacity to transfer genes into different types of cells, this vector will enable us to drive our drug development strategy toward different types of diseases for which no effective or acceptable treatment exists today."

In effect, while the improved vector was developed as part of Transghne's program for developing technologies to stimulate the capacity of the immune system to reject cancerous cells, it also could be used in gene therapies for other pathologies, such as cardiovascular diseases. Its ambitions in this area were confirmed by Managing Director Bernard Gilly, who said "the quantity of data we now have available on the safety of the vector encourages us to push ahead with our plans for expanding and accelerating our research program in the area of cardiovascular diseases." He added: "As part of our commercial development strategy, we aim to offer this new generation of vectors, as well as the cell lines needed to produce them, to any company interested in gene therapy."