LONDON - The race is on to generate patentable data from the sequences uncovered by the Human Genome Project, with genomics companies using the raw data as the reference for identifying and characterizing single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

In the past week, the UK company, Gemini Genomics plc, has announced deals with two U.S. companies, CuraGen Corp. and Sequenom Inc., to cross-match their respective databases to uncover SNPs. These variations significantly influence an individual's susceptibility to disease and potential response to drug treatments, and are likely to generate new drug targets and diagnostics.

Gemini CEO Paul Kelly told BioWorld International, "The race is on to get to the useful information as fast as possible. These deals are very large-scale collaborations to put our respective technologies together on a non-exclusive basis."

Kelly said that in the past genomics and biotechnology companies sought up-front money in exchange for rights. "We now see the value in leveraging synergistic technologies to accelerate discovery. These deals do not involve up-front payments, but we retain control and retain a large amount of the value."

While there is a formal structure to the agreements, decisions on outlicensing to third parties will be made on a case-by-case basis.

"We share the vision [with the partners] of the scale of the challenge to rapidly assign value to raw sequence data," said Kelly.

Kelly noted that Gemini, based in Cambridge, could do deals like these "over and over again." The company has a series of clinical databases, including DNA samples, from diverse populations including fraternal twins, founder populations and patient groups.

Last week Gemini was able to demonstrate the power of these databases when it announced results from its first commercial gene discovery study, carried out in collaboration with Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co Ltd., of Tokyo.

The study involved an unnamed gene, thought to be involved in several age-related chronic diseases, including osteoporosis, skin atrophy and emphysema. Gemini says it confirmed the links between the gene and clinically relevant risk factors. In addition, it uncovered previously unidentified links between SNPs in the gene and the physiological abnormalities that comprise metabolic syndrome, a collection of disorders including abnormal blood lipids, abdominal obesity and glucose intolerance, that influences the development of Type II diabetes and obesity.

"Because Gemini focuses on human clinical information, we can establish medically relevant links between particular genes, or subsets of genes, and susceptibility to common human diseases," Kelly said. The research has generated a number of novel biochemical pathways for further investigation. The two companies have filed patents covering the use of the SNPs as a diagnostic to identify disease risk, in pharmacogenomics and on the use of the gene products as therapeutics or small-molecule targets.

Kelly added that these discoveries proved both the scientific and the business model around which Gemini is built. "We had no inkling at the outset that this gene was involved in diabetes - if we had partitioned the data we would not have got at this finding."