PARIS - A new genomics research company devoted to the functional analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in support of the drug discovery process has just completed an initial funding round, enabling it to set up shop in a site close to Paris.

Called GenOdyssee, it is based officially at the Ginoptle, France's national biotechnology research and business park at Evry, but as the company's founder and chairman, Jean-Louis Escary, told BioWorld International, "because there was no building at the Ginoptle that was sufficiently new for our activities, we have established our offices and laboratory in an 800-square-meter, high-tech building at the Technoptle des Ulis," another science park southwest of Paris, retaining just a "representative office" at the Ginoptle.

GenOdyssee has raised a total of EUR8 million (US$7.7 million), mostly from a group of French venture capitalists. The funding round was led by Matignon Investissement et Gestion, while the other participants were Sociiti Ginirale Asset Management, Technolife 2010 (part of the Compagnie Financihre Edmond de Rothschild Banque), and a business angel, Georges Cohen, chairman of the French computer software company Transiciel. GenOdyssee's other shareholders include two public research establishments, the National Scientific Research Center and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research, as well as the Ginoptle.

According to Escary, the funds will be sufficient to finance GenOdyssee's activities for two to three years, after which it plans an initial public offering on the Nouveau Marchi in Paris. He said the company's business plan provides for it to move into profit within three to four years. "We are here to generate cash pretty quickly," said Escary, who was formerly a pharmacogenetics researcher with the National Genotyping Center at Evry, where he led the team that completed the first dense mapping of the SNPs of a whole human chromosome, chromosome 14, in conjunction with the National Sequencing Center.

GenOdyssee is a research firm that will earn revenues from providing services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies rather than from developing and marketing products. It is proposing two types of service. First, it plans to enter into collaborations for the discovery of genetic mutations in genes indicating predisposition and/or resistance to various common diseases, using data generated by the sequencing of the human genome and functional polymorphism analysis. The company either will carry out the screening and testing itself on a fee-for-service basis, or provide customers with diagnostic and prognostic kits for carrying out the tests themselves. Developing these testing devices is one of its early priorities, and Escary said it would subcontract the manufacture of the kits to an industrial company.

GenOdyssee maintains that the information it provides will speed up the discovery of new therapeutic targets based on gene variability. In addition, its proteomics department will supply customers with information about the structure of the active sites of mutant proteins, which will make it possible to develop new types of medicines. According to Escary, who was in New York to negotiate with prospective partners and customers, "many, many people are interested in the transfer of technology."

The second kind of service GenOdyssee is offering is the supply of "rational and reliable methods for identifying genomic profiles that have a positive or negative interaction with therapeutic compounds undergoing clinical trials." The company said its technology will significantly enhance the success rate of such trials and accelerate the commercialization of new drugs.

Besides these service activities, GenOdyssee already has embarked on an in-house research program aimed at building up a portfolio of patents in a particular therapeutic field, which Escary declined to identify. By directly applying its pharmacogenomics research, GenOdyssee aims to help develop tailor-made drugs adapted to the genomics profile of the individual patient.

The nerve center of its new facility at Les Ulis is a high-throughput genotyping platform - the first in Europe, according to Escary. It will enable GenOdyssee to offer its customers a fully automated output of 10,000 to 30,000 genotypes per day by January 2001, with an annual capacity of 6 million genotypes. It is using a patented method for discovering SNPs co-invented by Escary, based on the use of D-HPLC (denaturing high-performance liquid chromatography), and is said to be more reliable, efficient and significantly less costly than traditional methods.

GenOdyssee already has entered into collaborations with three organizations: Transgenomic Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., from which it obtained the D-HPLC technology; the French subsidiary of the Swiss company Tecan AG, a world leader in laboratory robotics; and France's Atomic Energy Commission, which is giving GenOdyssee access to its platform for analyzing protein structure.

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