LONDON ¿ A UK start-up has filed patents on a gene-profiling system for detecting variants of 2,500 genes, which it claims are responsible for variability in a patient¿s reaction to disease, therapy and cure.

Genostic Pharma Ltd. says it is talking to DNA chip manufacturers about building chips configured to detect single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in these 2,500 genes. Such chips would have wide application in pharmacogenomics, indicating the likely course of an individual¿s illness, predicting response to therapy and aiding in the selection of the best drug treatments to speed recovery with minimum side effects. The company has coined the term Medicine in Silico to describe the concept.

Variations in the 2,500 core genes covered by Genostic¿s patent filing will give medically relevant genetic information in 16 different disease areas, according to Gareth Roberts, founder of the company. He told BioWorld International, ¿This is only intended as the start, or version one of a universal profiling tool, but it covers enough genes to be useful.¿ He added, ¿It opens up the prospect of a type of medicine in which a knowledge of the effect of gene variation in response to disease and treatments leads to an ability to foresee how an individual will respond to disease.¿

While these 2,500 genes are not the only ones contributing to the variation in clinical and physiological phenotypes, the number of genes influencing individual response to disease and drug treatment will be significantly less than the 100,000 in the human genome.

The 2,500 genes have been identified by trawling the scientific literature for SNPs that influence predisposition to disease or reaction to drugs. The entire sequences for the genes were then taken from the Human Genome Project database. Genostic¿s patent application lists the sequences of the 2,500 genes, plus all known SNPs.

Roberts said the aim is to create the equivalent of a computer operating system for pharmacogenomics. In the same way as Microsoft¿s Windows operating system provides a standard around which other software companies and users can develop their own applications, Genostic will provide a standard genetic profiling system. This will cover all genes and all SNPs relevant to disease, providing a standard system that can be applied in the same way to millions of patients.

To date, most genetic tests are looking for a single gene, for example in screening for carriers of inherited diseases, or for single mutations, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, which indicate a predisposition to breast cancer.

Genostic, based in Cambridge, believes it has a patentable technology platform encompassing all significant, currently-known SNPs in one unitary system. The patent filings cover not only the concept, but also its application to medical practice and drug discovery. ¿So much is already known about genes and disease, but we are the first to have thought of a system for articulating the whole,¿ said Roberts.

The company, founded in 1997, has to date raised ¿several hundred thousand¿ [pounds]. This came from the two founders ¿ Roberts, who was formerly with SmithKline Beecham, and Ray Harrison, a biotechnology analyst ¿ and the venture capitalist Prelude Trust, of Cambridge. Harrison, a director, said, ¿We have a low burn rate, so funding is not a problem. We don¿t have any wet labs, but are investing our money to develop an IP position and market the concept.¿

Genostic will issue multiple licenses to the core platform technology to pharmaceutical companies, equipment manufacturers and healthcare providers. Roberts¿ vision is that patients would be tested in the doctor¿s office by general practitioners who would then log onto Internet databases to transmit the profile and access advice on drugs or treatments and lifestyle changes.

¿We are talking about developing a knowledge management system for genetics. The aim is to get from the Star Trek amounts of information generated by genetic testing to something that improves health care.¿