LONDON - Gendaq Ltd. has become the latest company to spin out of the government-funded Medical Research Council, securing first-round funding of #5.75 million to exploit zinc finger proteins for gene regulation.

CEO Tim Brears said, "This technology allows the up- or down-regulation of any selected genes at will. We will be using it to control important genes involved in human disease, and to control agronomic and other traits in plants and animals." Brears joined Gendaq from Novartis in the U.S., where he was director of licensing/business development.

Zinc fingers are natural transcription factor motifs discovered in 1985 by Aaron Klug, one of Gendaq's founding scientists. They are thought to be the most abundant type of transcription factor in higher organisms.

Gendaq, based in London, is able to engineer zinc fingers, or Z-Switches, as it calls them, for the regulation of any given gene. It has built a large, proprietary molecular library and developed automated high-throughput screening, allowing it to rapidly identify zinc fingers which bind to specific gene sequences.

The company will use Z-Switches for specific regulation of disease-related genes and to block the life cycle of pathogens. Brears said Gendaq has achieved proof of concept using a Z-Switch to turn off the Bcr-Ab1 oncogene in a cell nucleus in vitro.

The company also is developing a technique for using small molecules to regulate genes, which it calls iZ-Switch. This is a zinc finger transcription factor that functions only in the presence of a given small molecule. These would be used to control gene expression, so that, for example, an orally active drug could control the dosage of a therapeutic gene product in a patient, or an agrochemical could activate a transgene in a genetically modified crop plant.

Brears said Z-Switches also could be used as tools for functional genomics and target discovery. "To extract meaningful information from the genome sequencing effort, we must faithfully correlate newly discovered genes to their true cellular function. By designing Z-Switches to specifically control any gene of interest, Gendaq enables scientists to study the effect of turning genes on or off, allowing a reliable determination of gene function."