By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

Hitching its cancer-focused genomics program to the Singapore government's bid to encourage life sciences, Chiron Corp. entered a joint venture worth $22 million over the next two years to the company - which in turn is investing $8 million for a share of about 20 percent in the new firm.

"We're giving them access to our libraries and targets," said Shelley Schneiderman, associate manager, corporate communications for Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron.

The venture, which has been named S*BIO, is described as an integrated genomics and small molecule-based drug discovery company. It was formed in alliance with the PharmBio Growth Fund (PGF), a fund managed by an investment arm of Singapore's economic development board.

The Republic of Singapore owns the remaining 80 percent of S*BIO.

"It's a stand-alone company, infused with government money," Schneiderman said. Singapore is "jump-starting" the firm, which will be located there, but "in several years, the government might pull out money, and let it start being more independent," she added.

As part of the deal, Singapore also gets rights to Chiron's gene expression and combinatorial chemistry technologies.

"We've done a lot of early work and generated a lot of leads that we don't have the resources to develop on our own," Schneiderman told BioWorld Today. Leads include some in colorectal and prostate cancer, she said.

Chiron has found multiple series of small-molecule cancer compounds, including some that induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, and inhibit angiogenesis, signal transduction, hormonal growth and metastasis. The company's small-molecule program also has generated leads in diabetes, HIV, hepatitis C and obesity.

"We're not giving [anything] over - it's a sharing of development," Schneiderman said. "They're not equipped to commercialize, themselves, and we have rights to buy back products as they enter the clinic or at commercialization."

She noted Chiron lately has "had some mixed news in clinical news, and this is an exciting venture, so we can move ahead with other things in our pipeline."

The company's recombinant fibroblast growth factor-2 recently failed to meet its primary endpoint - improvement of exercise at 90 days - in a clinical trial involving symptomatic coronary artery patients, but the drug seemed to have value in reducing chest pain. Chiron also is developing insulin-like growth factor-1 for severe osteoarthritis. (See BioWorld Today, March 14, 2000, p. 1.)

After reporting lower-than-expected earnings for the final quarter of last year, Chiron roared back in the first quarter of this year, boasting a 50 percent increase in adjusted earnings per share over the same period in 1999. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 10, 2000, p. 1; and May 5, 2000, p. 1.)

Chiron's stock (NASDAQ:CHIR) closed Friday at $40.187, up 94 cents.