PARIS - ExonHit Therapeutics SA has signed a partnership agreement with Tokyo-based Sosei Co. Ltd., marking the French firm's entry into the Japanese market in particular and the Southeast Asian market in general.

Sosei will be ExonHit's representative in Asia, where it will market the latter's qualitative gene-profiling products. In addition, it will act as an independent, nonexclusive adviser to ExonHit in negotiating contracts with other Asian companies covering the development, manufacture, marketing and distribution of functional genomics products based on ExonHit's technologies.

Paris-based ExonHit has developed a gene-profiling system called Differential Analysis of Transcripts Alternatively Spliced (DATAS), which analyzes the qualitative differences between expressed genes, enabling pharmaceutical companies to reduce the time, cost and risk associated with the discovery of new drugs and diagnostic products. The company's chairman and CEO, Bruno Tocqui, told BioWorld International that ExonHit's customers, in Asia and elsewhere, will have the choice of a product or a service. They either may buy a kit, backed up by appropriate training and subject to contractual restrictions on its utilization, or they may opt to have ExonHit analyze and evaluate a compound for them, knowing they will receive the results within a week.

Among other things, the deal will enable ExonHit to market its DATAS technology to Japanese pharmaceutical companies with a tradition of developing "me-too" products. According to Sosei's chairman and CEO, Shin-ichi Tamura, the Japanese market is characterized by a large number of molecules mimicking those originally developed by foreign firms. "It has become much more difficult to get approval for such molecules, unless it can be demonstrated that they present advantages over competitors," Tamura said.

By evaluating how therapeutic compounds affect gene expression, ExonHit's DATAS technology can help companies develop new functions for existing compounds and enhance their profiles so they demonstrate better effectiveness or tolerance than molecules already on the market.

For ExonHit, the agreement marks its entry not only into a new regional market but also into a new field: genopharmacology, or the study of the impact of molecules on genome expression. According to Tocqui, this will allow ExonHit to "select for a given therapeutic class the chemical molecules that will present the least number of undesirable secondary effects and increased efficacy." But, he stressed, while "optimizing existing molecules is a short- to medium-term opportunity for ExonHit . . . the long-term objective remains the discovery of innovative chemical molecules," using ExonHit's DATAS technology to "refine their properties" and thus "achieve rapid clinical development."

Neither company has disclosed the financial details of the agreement, which is renewable on a year-to-year basis. ExonHit already has research collaboration agreements with two French companies, Rhtne-Poulenc Rorer (RPR), of Cedex, and Cerep SA, of Paris. RPR is financing a 33-month program for the discovery of two genes or coding sequences validated for their role in the development of head and neck cancers. ExonHit's two-year deal with Cerep covers both the development of diagnostic tools for the early prediction of toxicity in new drugs and the identification of two genes associated with neurodegenerative diseases.

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