PARIS ¿ Genset has entered into a research collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for identifying and cloning genes associated with schizophrenia.

The two-year agreement calls for Genset to use its single-nucleotide polymorphism technology, which consists of densely-spaced sets of proprietary biallelic markers, and linkage disequilibrium association strategies, to analyze a bank of 1,800 DNA samples collected from over 300 families containing one or more members diagnosed with schizophrenia.

These DNA samples, which the Johns Hopkins epidemiology-genetics program is making available, will enable the Paris-based genomics company to conduct the fine mapping required to identify genes associated with susceptibility to schizophrenia. Genset will utilize the state-of-the-art biostatistical methodologies and computational tools developed for its newly established department of epidemiology and biostatistics, which facilitate the task of associating genomics discoveries with susceptibility to complex psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia.

Genset is already engaged in a collaborative research program with Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutica, of Beerse, Belgium, for the discovery of genes associated with schizophrenia. That agreement expires this month and the results will be announced shortly, Genset¿s CEO, Pascal Brandys, told BioWorld International. ¿We are currently negotiating a renewal of the agreement so that we can move on to the next stage,¿ he said, adding that an extension was very probable.

He said the collaboration with Janssen targeted specific regions of the genome and the agreement with Johns Hopkins will ¿greatly expand our schizophrenia gene discovery program beyond those initial targets. We are sure there are several genes involved and our objective is to make a complete inventory of all the genes.¿ He added that Genset would have exclusive rights to the genes discovered and would manage the filing of patent applications and the granting of licenses to pharmaceutical companies wanting to exploit them for developing new therapeutic approaches.

The Johns Hopkins epidemiology-genetics program, headed by Ann Pulver, has devoted its activities for the past 20 years to understanding the heterogeneity of schiz ophrenia, identifying the risk factors associated with it and locating the genomic regions linked to it. Identifying the genes associated with schizophrenia will not only raise hopes ¿for the development of better treatments¿ for the disease but will also ¿allow the design of more focused studies to determine the contribution of environmental factors to schizophrenia,¿ Pulver said. n