By Karen Pihl-Carey

Digital Gene Technologies Inc. (DGT) entered into a gene discovery partnership with Dublin, Ireland-based Elan Corp. plc that will translate into $58 million in research support and another $10 million in equity funding for the La Jolla, Calif.-based company.

The partnership involves two separate research projects. One will focus on the identification and development of drug targets and therapeutics to treat Alzheimer¿s and Parkinson¿s diseases, while the other will investigate and develop mechanisms for delivery of drug compounds for a wide range of treatments.

The first research project will deploy DGT¿s patented TOGA (Total Gene Expression Analysis) technology in South San Francisco-based Elan Pharmaceuticals¿ Alzheimer¿s and Parkinson¿s disease models. TOGA also will be used in novel drug delivery approaches pioneered by Elan Pharmaceutical Technologies, of Dublin.

¿We have a separate scientific arrangement with them [Elan, of Dublin] to look at genes that are important in determining the permeability of cells in those regions where drug absorption is implicated,¿ said Robert Sutcliffe, president and CEO of DGT.

As far as he knows, Sutcliffe said it is the first time a genomics approach has been applied in that area.

¿The thought is,¿ he told BioWorld Today, ¿that not only will the targets and the strategies be good for new drug delivery vehicles, but they will also make viable any number of compounds that were previously discarded because of poor bioavailability.¿

The six-year partnership includes at least $58 million in support of TOGA-based research and target validation. Elan also is buying $10 million in stock in DGT, Sutcliffe said. The partners will share ownership of products that come out of the partnership.

¿We¿re guaranteed certain minimum royalties and milestones, but we also have the right to participate with them in the development of products, which is new to us,¿ Sutcliffe said. ¿And so we will own a share of the discoveries and have a right to participate in the development of products.¿

As part of the agreement, DGT will provide TOGA processing services on an exclusive basis within the research fields in exchange for exclusivity, processing and molecule license fees. The two companies will share responsibility for downstream functional characterization of novel genes identified in the research. The partnership could be expanded to include two additional central nervous system disease fields.

¿In the first two years, they have a right to double the size of the project by adding two additional CNS pathologies,¿ Sutcliffe said. ¿So it [the partnership] could be twice the size we¿re talking about.¿

The TOGA technology is a method of identifying and determining the concentration of nearly all of the genes active in a sample cell or tissue. Elan Pharmaceuticals has developed leading disease models for understanding the complex brain processes implicated in Alzheimer¿s and Parkinson¿s diseases.

¿The mouse models that Elan has are second to none,¿ Sutcliffe said.