PARIS  RPR Gencell, the gene therapy division of Rhtne-Poulenc Rorer, and LXR Biotechnology Inc. signed a collaboration agreement under which Gencell will evaluate the cytoprotective role of the SARP-1 gene in heart muscle cells that have been deprived of oxygen.

The SARP-1 gene, which was discovered by Richmond, Calif.-based LXR, is one of the family of secreted apoptosis-related proteins that either inhibit or enhance the process of apoptosis (gene-directed cell death).

SARP-1 produces a protein that protects against apoptosis and could thus play a therapeutic role in cardiovascular disease, some forms of which are associated with accelerated apoptosis due to insufficient oxygenation. By preventing or slowing cell death, the SARP-1 gene could help give an injured heart muscle more time to recover.

Depending on the outcome of its evaluation, Gencell may go on to conduct additional research, including preclinical in vivo heart studies. The agreement gives RPR, of Collegeville, Pa., first option on negotiating the acquisition of rights to SARP-1-related technology for cardiovascular indications.

According to Asher Zilberstein, research investigator, cardiovascular biology, at RPR, Gencell is interested in ¿evaluating a recombinant adenovirus vector encoding SARP-1 in physiologically relevant models of cardiomyocyte apoptosis in vitro and for in vivo proof-of-concept studies in animal models of myocardial ischemia and heart failure. Should the pilot experiments prove successful,¿ he said, ¿we may extend the collaboration to include gene therapy and small-molecule applications.¿

Paul Hastings, president and CEO of LXR, welcomed the fact that ¿a company of the stature of Rhtne-Poulenc Rorer has recognized the potential of SARPs . . . [which] regulate fundamental processes in the life/death cycle of cells and thereby have great potential as therapeutics.¿ He added this collaboration was ¿one of several that LXR plans to establish for the development of SARP technology for a number of diseases.¿

LXR¿s discovery of the SARPs and their encoding genes was first published in December 1997, and the company¿s present research effort is focused on studying their role in both cardiovascular disease and cancer. It has developed a number of drugs for cardiovascular applications such as heart transplant, bypass surgery and heart attack. n

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