By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

To strengthen what the company calls its ¿systems biology¿ genomics platform with gene knockout technology and an arsenal of cell-based assays, GeneTrace Systems acquired Strata Biosciences for an undisclosed amount.

¿We see a lot of room in the post-genomics space, what we call after-omics,¿¿ said George B. LaMotte, CEO of Alameda, Calif.-based GeneTrace, which uses genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics to develop drug targets and leads.

Terms of the deal were not provided, nor was the amount of a recently completed Series B financing.

¿It was a private round done in conjunction with this acquisition, so we could carry the burn we weren¿t planning on,¿ LaMotte said. ¿We picked up their whole organization, and substantially increased our burn rate,¿ he added, declining to supply details.

Strata also is based in Alameda, and operations will be consolidated at GeneTrace¿s facility, where Strata¿s gene knockout technology and assays will help greatly with an approach that LaMotte says is rare in the industry.

GeneTrace deploys high-throughput gene and protein expression profiling; knockdown and knock-in technologies; genotyping; and cell-based phenotypic assays, capturing and analyzing the results of system perturbations in a non-linear network analysis that is capable of examining more than a single-gene defect.

¿We¿d argue there aren¿t many people, if any, who do it, because they don¿t have the tools,¿ LaMotte said. ¿It involves looking at all the modules simultaneously.¿

By ¿module,¿ LaMotte means ¿a set of genes and the related proteins those genes code for. It includes the signaling molecules that work within the module. We isolate them as a system and look at that, and look at the other modules around them, and then we can hook them together.¿

The concept, he said, is to ¿find out where the important elements of the whole system are. Those, we believe, should be higher priority potential targets, because they¿re what we call central switches. If you can get [to the central switch] and perturb it, you¿ll have a broader effect and less downstream effect. You want to get high enough up that you¿re hitting a reasonable segment of the population, but not so high up that you¿re hitting normal functions below it.¿

Although the company uses a cancer model, its strategy is valuable for other conditions, such as those in the inflammatory field, LaMotte said, adding that the technology is unlike would-be competitors¿ methods because it goes further.

¿Other people say, We ran an array on disease, and these [genes] are different, so they¿re targets,¿ LaMotte said. ¿We start with arrays, but there¿s a whole lot of work to do after that. Genes you look at from array to array may have nothing to do with the central mechanism.¿

Further screening is done through a collaboration with Berlex Laboratories Inc., of Wayne, N.J., begun last August. Terms were not disclosed. GeneTrace also has a $17 million pact with St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., signed two years ago. (See BioWorld Today, April 3, 1998, p. 1.)

¿We¿ve had a program where we developed genotypic markers for row crops,¿ LaMotte said. ¿The large bolus of that project is over. We¿ve made the markers, and they¿re using them. It¿s hard for us to say where that relationship will go, but it¿s pretty safe to say that, from this point forward, all of our announcements will be related to pharma, and not to agriculture.¿

Strata had a deal with Tularik Inc., related to gene knockdowns. The two-year collaboration, begun in February 1999, ¿remains, but is not active,¿ LaMotte said. ¿We¿ve not yet talked to Tularik about what their interests are, and where they¿re going.¿ However, he said, GeneTrace ¿would be unlikely to do a deal like that,¿ and the company has ¿gone through a fairly substantial transformation,¿ details of which will be disclosed later.

¿Our needs have changed,¿ he said.