By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

Celera Genomics launched the functional genomics portion of its business with a three-year gene-discovery agreement with Rhone-Poulenc Rorer.

The terms of the collaboration remain undisclosed, but it is the first "service-type" agreement announced by Rockville, Md.-based Celera, which has several database agreements with other major pharmaceutical partners. The goal of the alliance is to identify therapeutic targets for a broad range of human diseases including asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disorders.

"This is the first time we've detailed and described the other part of our business," said Criss Walworth, a spokeswoman for Celera, which is a business unit of PE Corp. "While our other alliances have been centered on access to our database, this deal is centered more on our expression technology. This is a whole other part of Celera that people probably weren't aware of."

The centerpiece of the agreement is Celera's GeneTag process, which provides a rapid, quantitative measurement of all RNA transcripts present in a cell. GeneTag is a global gene expression profiling technology that is capable of detecting rare and novel transcripts in quantities less than one copy per cell. As a result, the technology allows researchers to quickly focus on genes relevant to a specific disease model, biological pathway or drug response.

Rhone-Poulenc Rorer (RPR), the Collegeville, Pa.-based pharmaceutical subsidiary of Rhone-Poulenc S.A., will provide Celera with biological models it developed and Celera will use its GeneTag technology to help the company identify appropriate drug targets.

While specific financial terms were not disclosed, RPR will pay up-front fees to Celera in addition to set milestones and royalties on any products developed from the alliance. Also, RPR has the option to access Celera's capabilities for full-length cDNA cloning and functional characterization of any candidate genes discovered.

"This deal is distinct from the database part of the business," Walworth said. "The alliance provides us with short-term revenue as well as the potential for mid-term and long-term revenue. We will definitely do more of these types of deals."

Celera currently has five-year database agreements with a unit of Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis AG and with Pharmacia & Upjohn (P&U), of Bridgewater, N.J., to provide access to three of Celera's databases: the Celera Human Gene Index, Drosophila Genome Database and the Human Genome Database. Novartis and P&U will retain all rights to any discoveries made using those databases.

Celera also has a relationship with Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif. That agreement provides Amgen with five-year access to the three databases, and includes a collaboration on the discovery and development of therapeutic proteins. Celera would receive milestones and royalties on any products that are developed out of the alliance.