HAMBURG, Germany ¿ GPC AG, of Martinsried, near Munich, this month entered into two important research alliances with two other German biotech companies, Evotec BioSystems AG, and MorphoSys AG. Both companies, located in Hamburg and Martinsried respectively, have developed high-throughput screening technologies to screen for small molecules or antibodies directed against specific targets. The collaborations are intended to speed up GPC¿s internal drug-discovery program.

When Bernd Seizinger took over his chair as CEO at GPC, located near Munich, last year, he told BioWorld International that GPC would try to pursue two strategies: ¿to commercialize technology platforms by entering deals with pharmaceutical companies, and building an internal drug-discovery program to develop new therapeutics against bacterial infections, cancer, and immune and autoimmune disorders.¿

With the Evotec and Morphosys deals added to the ongoing collaboration with Gene Alliance GmbH, GPC forged three collaborations within three months.

The MorphoSys-GPC agreement aims at the development of new therapeutic antibodies against target molecules already developed by GPC, while the Evotec-GPC collaboration is focused on the development of a new generation of broad-spectrum antibiotics based on small molecules.

Already Identified 22 Targets

In the area of antibacterials, GPC is looking at those genes of pathogens, whose functions are still unclear. In the case of Staphylococcus aureus, for example, a pathogen with several multi-resistant strains causing 10,000 deaths per year, these genes amount to around 40 percent of the bacterial genome. GPC screens this part of the genome for drug targets and uses its proprietary high-throughput knock-out technique to identify essential genes.

¿That way, drug targets can be identified which have not been utilized for the development of antibiotics so that they have not been subject to the selection pressure of bacterial resistance so far,¿ Seizinger said.

¿GPC AG has already identified and validated 22 novel and promising antibacterial targets with this approach. Now, we are providing Evotec with one of these targets, and Evotec will develop a high-throughput screening assay to screen a small molecule compound library to identify lead drugs with potent activity against this target,¿ he added.

Both partners plan to support this program through the preclinical drug discovery process, sharing costs and revenues. ¿At the end of this process, we will have to find a pharmaceutical industry partner for the further stages of the clinical development,¿ Seizinger said. ¿Then, a broader alliance may be possible to develop additional antibacterial targets from our internal research program.¿

Negotiations With U.S. Firms Under Way

To facilitate the screening of other targets, GPC is already negotiating with two U.S.-based companies. ¿To speed up the process and to get the most out of it, maybe we will switch our targets among these companies,¿ Seizinger said. GPC had considered developing screening abilities in-house, he added. ¿However, anti-bacterials are a hot and very rapidly developing market, so we decided to join forces with the best screening companies on the market instead,¿ Seizinger said. ¿That will give us an advantage of at least one or two years.¿

The development is expected to lead to a broad-spectrum antibiotic whose novel targets are protected legally by GPC.

The collaboration with MorphoSys aims at the identification of antibodies against major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules. These MHC molecules are crucial components of the immune system that enable the body to distinguish between its own and foreign cells. Irregularities in the action of these MHC molecules are believed to be involved in the onset of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, as well as in the rejection of organ transplants and the development of certain lymphomas. The goal of the program is the development of highly specific therapeutics to treat these diseases.

Financial details of both collaborations were not disclosed. n