ByLudger Wess

BioWorld International Correspondent

HAMBURG, Germany - Genome Pharmaceuticals Corp. AG (GPC), of Martinsried, Germany, announced a collaboration with Altana subsidiary Byk Gulden, of Konstanz, Germany, to identify new genomic targets for the control of Helicobacter and Chlamydia infections. The collaboration is the biggest alliance between a German pharmaceutical and a German biotechnology company so far.

GPC is already one of Germany's record-breaking bio tech companies. Founded in 1997, it attracted the largest amount of seed money raised by a biotech start-up in Germany. Meanwhile, the DM6.5 million (US$3.9 million) in seed venture capital was leveraged by a further DM10 million in state and government support and by a DM12 million BioRegio grant from the German federal research ministry. GPC has grown from a staff of five to 42 within one year and created a high-profile external director's board from the fields of science, finance, bio-entrepreneurship and pharmaceuticals, among them J|rgen Drews, the former president of Global Research, of F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, of Basel, Switzerland.

Also, the company has established close cooperations with research groups at the German Cancer Research Institute DKFZ, of Heidelberg, and the Max Planck Institute for Genetics, of Berlin.

In October, GPC appointed Bernd Seizinger as CEO. The German specialist in molecular medicine and oncology had been vice president and chief scientific officer at Genome Therapeutics Inc., of Waltham, Mass., since 1996.

"To me, GPC is one of the most exciting start-ups that have been founded during the last years," Seizinger told BioWorld International. "Today, the most important task is to identify drug targets, and GPC's domain is at the boundary between genomics and target identification, bridging the gap between genes and screens. Our vision is to become the premier second-generation genomics company."

To achieve this goal, GPC uses a number of techniques for the automated analysis of genes and gene functions. "Among others, we have developed technologies to identify rare genes and rare gene transcripts, and we have constructed a trap to capture protein-protein interactions," Seizinger said. "All in all, we are able to perform an extremely sensitive and accurate tissue and sample profiling of potential targets, and we have technologies to elucidate whole biochemical and signaling pathways, including receptors, enzymes, etc. involved."

GPC is planning to commercialize its technology platforms systematically. "Big pharmaceutical companies are interested in one-stop-shop alliances, and we are well prepared for this. Our collaboration with Byk Gulden is an important milestone," Seizinger said. "Already, we are negotiating another one in the field of human genetics with a U.S. company."

The Byk Gulden deal is worth up to DM50 million and is initially planned for five years. It focuses on research in antimicrobials against Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium known to trigger stomach ulcers, and Chlamydia pneumoniae, responsible for severe lung infections and possibly linked to arteriosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.

GPC will enter three specific research projects to identify and validate drug targets for small molecules and to establish mechanisms of action for Byk Gulden's known drug candidates. In addition, GPC will elucidate comprehensive bacterial pathways and identify mechanisms of interaction of the bacteria with host cells.

Under terms of the agreement, GPC will receive an up-front fee and milestone payments for all targets accepted by Byk Gulden. Further success fees will be paid by Byk Gulden upon launch of drugs directed at targets identified by GPC. Vaccine rights will go to GPC as well as the rights to develop therapeutic and diagnostic products on targets that are abandoned by Byk Gulden.

Byk Gulden has specialized in gastrointestinal diseases and Helicobacter infections during the last years. Earlier this year, it succeeded in sequencing the C. pneumoniae genome with GATC GmbH, of Konstanz, founded in 1990 as the first European commercial gene sequencing company.

"Anti-infectives will be an important first market as more and more genomes of microbial pathogens are sequenced," Seizinger said. "So, in this field, the genome revolution will lead to the pharmaceutical revolution first."

He said GPC will concentrate on microorganisms like Staphylococcus aureus, with genomes on the order of 2 million to 6 million base pairs. "We will concentrate on the 30 to 40 percent of the genes with unknown function," he said. "At the same time, this will be a prototype for systematic functional analysis of more complex genomes, as the human one."

GPC will not rely on cooperations alone, Seizinger added. "Already, we are building our own drug discovery program in anti-infectives, immunology and oncology," he said. "There is a vast market and we are interested not only in alliances with big pharma, but in strategic alliances with other biotechnology companies as well. Most likely, this will be with companies in the area of high-throughput screening and combinatorial chemistry." On a long-term basis, GPC will build drug discovery know-how in two to three disease areas and acquire the ability to perform Phase I and Phase II clinical trials independently.

Seizinger added he expects an initial public offering within the next two or three years. "We prefer a dual listing in the U.S. and in Germany." Currently, GPC is establishing a business development office on the East Cost in the U.S., and will open a U.S. subsidiary next year. n