PARIS ¿ Genset has identified a third gene associated with prostate cancer under its collaborative research program with Synthilabo, triggering a further, undisclosed milestone payment from the French pharmaceutical company. What it describes as a ¿major gene¿ was discovered through extensive genotyping and association studies, using large collections of DNA from familial and sporadic cases of prostate cancer and control specimens.

The companies¿ collaboration dates back to May 1996, when they signed a two-year research and licensing agreement under which the Paris-based Genset could hope to receive a total of FFr355 million (US$58 million) in research and development funding, as well as both research and clinical milestones. It completed the mapping phase within six months, identifying several chromosomal regions of the human genome containing genes associated with prostate cancer.

Genset received its first milestone payment from Synthilabo after filing a patent application in November 1996. Eighteen months later, in May 1998, following the discovery of a second gene, Synthilabo made a further undisclosed payment to Genset and extended its agreement for a third year.

The companies are discussing a further extension of their collaboration with effect from next month, Genset¿s chief financial officer, Deborah Smeltzer, told BioWorld International. Like the last one, another renewal would probably call for Synthilabo to pay Genset a further fixed sum of research funding, although Smeltzer said that neither the technical nor the financial terms would necessarily be identical to the existing ones.

Genset said about one-third of prostate cancer cases in Caucasians can be attributed to the three genes it has discovered, for all of which it has filed patent applications. Synthilabo has exclusive rights to these genes for the development and sale of small molecules, therapeutic proteins, therapeutic antibodies and certain vaccines, while Genset retains the rights for other therapeutic applications such as gene and cell therapies, as well as for diagnostic tools. Synthilabo is currently engaged in high-throughput screening of the first target delivered by Genset at its own research center. n