TEL AVIV, Israel ¿ Compugen Ltd. signed a multimillion dollar strategic partnership deal last week with U.S. genomics company Human Genome Sciences Inc. (HGS) to finesse HGS¿ vast collection of human mRNAs into the first virtually complete chromosomal map of expressed genes, to create an organized collection of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and splicing variants, and to generate a lucid description of human gene bioarchitecture.

Michal Preminger, Compugen¿s vice president for business development, said the project should take about one year. Compugen and HGS scientists will work together at HGS to apply Compugen¿s computational analysis LEADS Platform ¿ which allows direct comparison of DNA sequences, integrated clustering and assembly of both expressed and genomic sequences, DNA chip design, polymorphism identification, joint analysis of data from multiple organisms, group gene annotation and integration of mapping and disease linkage information ¿ onto the billions of genetic sequences from the Human Genome Project and HGS¿ own vast collection of messenger RNAs, estimated by the company to include more than 95 percent of all human genes.

¿Being selected by HGS, a company recognized as the world¿s leading company in the genomics field by both the scientific and financial community, strengthens Compugen¿s position as the premier company in computational genomics,¿ said Preminger. ¿They recognized our superiority in these areas,¿ and she hoped ¿the project would significantly raise the profile of interest in Compugen,¿ leading to further contracts for the Tel Aviv-based company. ¿The project is a also a major new initiative for HGS,¿ Preminger said, ¿marking a significant upgrade in its data-mining strategy and holding the promise of the creation of great economic value. Enabled by our LEADS technology, HGS will map the human expressed genome, an effort they haven¿t done previously.¿

One Goal Is Linking Genes, Disease

HGS, of Rockville, Md., will use Compugen¿s considerable data analysis and mining power to identify cSNPs ¿ the individual variations that could determine disease susceptibility or resistance, allergic reactions, drug tolerance, even aging and pain threshold; and, furthermore, to get a real fix on the bioarchitecture of the human genome.

¿A gene is not a continuous sequence of DNA; it is actually interrupted in many places and the pieces must be properly put together in order to make the template for a functional protein,¿ Eithan Galun, director of the Goldyne Savad Institute of Gene Therapy of the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, told BioWorld International. ¿Instead of a simple linear causal chain between DNA and protein, there is a profusion of intervening proteins regulating transcription, with alternative starts and stops, and that is just to produce the intermediate RNA template, which is then subject to a vast array of alternative possibilities before it is ready to be translated into protein,¿

The hope is that once a map is completed, researchers will be better able to determine associations between individual genes and inherited disease relatively quickly, and even more quickly through Compugen¿s web-based lab platform that was launched in December and is ¿being accessed enthusiastically by molecular biologists from all over the world,¿ Compugen Chairman Martin Gerstel told BioWorld International.

¿Compugen has competitors but it presents a real breakthrough in showing where these diverse genetic components fall on one coherent map. That they have made their technology available through their web site in a really secure and user-friendly manner is an unparalleled boon to academic and clinical investigations,¿ Galun said.

HGS Seeks Genetically Tailored Drugs

¿Researchers performing high-throughput discovery efforts, using techniques such as DNA chips and 2-hybrid systems, find LabOnWeb the optimal tool for making sense out of their raw data, and then go back to the lab focused on the relevant research candidates only,¿ Gerstel said.

HGS will retain exclusive rights to commercialize the output of this collaboration, and the timing is just right for HGS, which is looking toward the discovery of genetically tailored drugs, when its exclusive contract with SmithKline Beecham plc, of Middlesex, UK, expires in July 2001. Then it will be free to develop drug candidates based on its own database. ¿With LEADS Platform, HGS will be well prepared,¿ said Preminger.

This latest of Compugen¿s first three major deals ¿ its others are a December 1999 deal with Parke-Davis, a division of Warner-Lambert Co.; and a January deal with Framingham, Mass.-based Genzyme Molecular Oncology to expand global access to Genzyme¿s proprietary SAGE database via LabOnWeb ¿ could catapult this company to ¿an unprecedented international world leadership status for an Israeli biotech company, to become the center of a real core technology and in an industry that needs no natural resources, does not pollute the environment, and requires no power but pure brain power,¿ Gerstel told BioWorld International.

There has been broad speculation in the local press that Compugen will go public on the Nasdaq market within the next six months, but the company has refused comment.