HAMBURG, Germany - The genomics technology and services company MWG-Biotech AG and the pharmacogenomics company Epidauros AG entered into a DM10 million (US$4.9 million) alliance to develop a pharmacogenomic chip to be used in clinical trials and at the bedside.

Epidauros, of Bernried, founded in 1998, is exploring the genetics of enzymes involved in drug metabolism and cooperates with Parexel International, of Boston, in genotyping patients participating in Phase I trials for pharmacogenomically relevant alleles. The company recently announced the discovery of an important polymorphism influencing the concentration of several drugs in the human blood. (See BioWorld International, Feb. 23, 2000).

"Meanwhile, we have obtained several hundred SNPs that are of pharmacogenetic relevance, and after thorough investigation we believe we can hand over these SNPs to clinicians with a good conscience," G|nther Heinrich, president and CEO of Epidauros, told BioWorld International. "With MWG, we will design a pharmacogenetic chip with very high accuracy with a very attractive price."

Under the terms of the exclusive cooperation, MWG, of Ebersberg, will pay DM10 million up front, and milestone and technology access fees to Epidauros. Epidauros is responsible for the validation in more than 500 patients. Chips are expected to be ready for clinical testing by the end of this year and to enter the market by 2003.

According to Michael Weichselgartner, CEO and President of MWG, chips will have an accuracy of more than 99.9 percent. "Production costs will be less than DM5, and we are planning to sell the chips at a price of less than DM500. I believe we are well ahead with these figures."

With the pharmacogenomic chips, MWG plans to get a head start into the diagnostic DNA chip market, Markus Frieser, managing director of MWG, told BioWorld International. "We started as a company with machines, devices and services for genomics, but now we are transforming into a true genomics company." MWG is acknowledged as a leading provider of oligos, with a synthesis of up to 10,000 oligos each day and has just set up a DNA sequencing business. "We will also add a genomics discovery and SNP analysis business."

Frieser said according to market studies, the diagnostic DNA chip market would reach sales of US$5 billion in 2004. "In the SNP business, Epidauros has prepared the ground very well, so the cooperation is an excellent chance to enter into this market."

Wolfgang Mann, head of MWG's chip technology department, said MWG would synthesize the oligos and use a spotting technology to bind the SNPs to the chip surface. "Basically, it is a technique of Genetic Microsystems, which was acquired by Affymetrix a couple of months ago." MWG has obtained a marketing license for this technology and already is negotiating with Affymetrix, of Santa Clara, Calif., to acquire any necessary additional licenses.