SYDNEY, Australia - The recent sale of genetic data gathered from the Icelandic community has helped significantly boost the share price of one of the few listed Australian companies involved in genomic research.

The share price of Bionomics Ltd., an Adelaide-based company that is identifying genes associated with epilepsy by tracing families in which the disease reoccurs, is now four times its A$0.40 (US$0.24) initial listing price of late last year. At the close of business on Friday, the stock was priced at A$1.63.

A large part of that increase occurred in the past few weeks after the company issued a "background briefing memorandum" on its plan to trace families suffering from epilepsy and collect tissue samples from them. Most of the work will be done through the Epilepsy Center at the University of Melbourne, which already has considerable experience in tracing those families.

All the information in the briefing notes had been in the prospectus (albeit in a less-accessible form), but the notes also pointed to a recent deal between DeCode Genetics Inc. and Roche Holdings Ltd. involving the sale of genetic data and tissue samples from the Icelandic population for $US20 million.

The company intends to collect genetic information in order to identify genes associated with epilepsy. It also has another project involving the identification of genes involved in breast cancer.

Bionomics Chairman Fraser Ainsworth said part of the price increase might be due to institutional investors buying stock. The marketing for the company float in December only targeted high net-worth individuals and not institutional investors. He said he was pleased at investor response and the recognition of Bionomics' growth prospects.

Bionomics raised A$7 million last year, with most of the money earmarked for the genetic epilepsy research. However, part of the money will be used for work on the genetic basis of breast cancer being done by the Women and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, also in Adelaide, and the University of Melbourne.

The Women and Children's Hospital has mapped two suppresser genes on human chromosome 16 estimated to play a role in more than 50 percent of breast cancers.

Grant Sutherland, head of the department of cytogenetics and molecular genetics at the Women and Children's Hospital, and past president of the Human Genome Organization, said the company was running both lines of research in tandem. But the work on epilepsy was less risky, he said, as there were many different forms of epilepsy, and so there would be many different types of genes associated with it. In addition, the Australian groups were at the forefront of the research internationally.

"With breast cancer, there are just one or two genes involved and so there is a much higher risk that we will read about a discovery on the front page of Nature Genetics that will make us abandon the project," Sutherland said.

No Comments