PARIS - Genset has signed a research, assignment and license agreement with the Canadian company Alghne Biotechnologies Corp. covering research into Alzheimer's disease. The deal gives the Paris-based genomics company exclusive access to Alghne's extensive collection of DNA samples taken from Alzheimer's sufferers, as well as a license to exploit Alghne's proprietary gene mapping results.

Over the past few years, Alghne, of Montreal, has built up a comprehensively phenotyped collection of clinical samples from Alzheimer's patients within the Quebec founder population. It has confirmed a large number of patient phenotypes as a result of postmortem analysis establishing the presence of senile plaques and high concentrations of protein bundles (neurofibrillary tangles). By applying its gene mapping and statistical analysis expertise to these samples, Alghne has identified several chromosomal regions thought to contain genes associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Genset will use its integrated genomics technologies to generate proprietary biallelic markers in the chromosomal regions identified by Alghne, perform high-throughput genotyping of the complete sample collection, and apply its advanced biostatistics tools to analyze the resulting association data.

In addition, Genset will fund a one-year research program at Alghne, so it can continue its DNA collection and analysis activities and provide Genset with DNA samples that satisfy optimal epidemiological and biostatistical criteria for a large-scale case control association study.

The agreement assigns Genset all the intellectual property rights to the discoveries arising from this joint research. Alghne will receive license fees from Genset as well as funding for its 12-month research program, plus possible milestone payments based on the results of Genset's research and, later on, revenues from the sale of products brought to market. For Alghne, this agreement with Genset "represents a major milestone," said chairman and CEO Michael Dennis. "Our Alzheimer's program had reached a point where rapid progress toward identification of associated genes required the scientific expertise, proprietary technology base and critical mass of a major genomics partner."

Genset's ambition, as described by its chairman and CEO Pascal Brandys, is "to rapidly discover and patent novel genes that put us on the path towards better therapeutic options [for Alzheimer's disease] by combining our unique genomics approach using association studies with Alghne's exceptional clinical expertise and clinical collection with well-characterized phenotypes."

Beyond this alliance with Alghne, Genset says it intends to team up with pharmaceutical companies to conduct collaborative research programs targeted at Alzheimer's and to license out related gene discoveries for the development of novel drugs.

Genset, which has two schizophrenia research programs under way with different partners, regards diseases of the central nervous system (CNS) as a particularly fertile field for gene therapy research. Noting "a large unsatisfied medical need in virtually all areas of CNS therapy," Brandys said it was urgent "to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of these multi-factorial diseases." The company has thus resolved to commit additional resources to CNS research programs.