By Mary Welch

Proclaiming itself in the lead position in proteomics, Oxford GlycoSciences plc signed a five-year, $27.5 million collaboration for plant research with Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc.

The partnership, initially focused on corn, provides Oxford with a $12.5 million (#7.5 million) up-front payment, along with $15 million in committed research and development funds over the course of the project, as well as milestone payments and royalties.

"This is our third deal done this year, and it puts us at over $100 million in payments — a large percentage of which are committed," said Paul Triniman, chief financial officer for Oxford GlycoSciences, based in Oxford, U.K. The company went public earlier this year.

"Obviously, we've been busy," Triniman said. The latest move "justifies us in saying that we are now the leading proteomics company. Proteomics is becoming a buzz word now, but we believe that, across the spectrum of technology, we are the leader."

Des Moines, Iowa-based Pioneer will apply Oxford's proteomics technology platform to its plant gene database to discover genes for improving seed products, and Oxford will make databases of protein expression. The companies aim to create a new generation of seed products and protein targets for crop protection, boosting productivity and bettering the environment.

Partnership To Expand To Other Plants

Other plants, such as sunflowers and soybeans, eventually will be included in the partnership.

Proteomics is the study of proteins encoded by the genome — usually, the high-throughput, systematic separation, identification and characterization of proteins. Pioneer was one of the first agricultural seed genetics companies to enter genomics, and estimates it has sequence information for about 80 percent of the genes in corn.

Tony Cavalieri, vice president of research in Pioneer's trait and technology department, said the company has been "following a broad program on genomics for some time, where we align with a technology provider and our own internal efforts to focus on crop trait improvements."

Oxford's high-throughput, high-sensitivity proteomics platform and informatics systems will give Pioneer a more precise tool for understanding gene expression, identifying protein traits and figuring out the function of the genes for crop improvements, Cavalieri said.

Triniman is quick to point out that the project does not involve genetic engineering, but is limited to crop modification.

"It is important to understand the genes, and [Pioneer] has been in existence for a long time breeding seeds," he said. "If a strain has a better resistance to disease or reacts better to a fertilizer, then by understanding the characteristics, you can get those traits and genetically bring about a better seed."

Oxford's business model "has been to leverage proteomics deals in the short term with top companies, which gives us the support and funding for our long-term goal, which is our internal drug discovery," Triniman said.

The company is preparing to enter Phase II trials with OGT 719, a compound that targets primary liver cancer and secondary colorectal cancer metastasized to the liver. Dosing began in March in a Phase I/II trial with another compound, OGT 918, for Gaucher's disease. Clinical studies for Fabry's disease are expected begin by the end of the year.

In January, Oxford teamed up with Incyte Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., in a four-year pact to develop and commercialize proteomics databases. Incyte made a $5 million equity payment, and the two companies will share profits and jointly own any resulting intellectual property.

In April, the company and Pfizer Inc., of New York, entered a $50 million deal in which Oxford will apply its technology to identify disease-specific proteins as potential diagnostics, clinical markers of disease and targets for the development of drugs. The collaboration initially will focus on Alzheimer's disease, although Pfizer has the option to select a second condition.

Two days after the Pfizer announcement, the company raised $50 million in an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange. (See BioWorld Today, April 8, 1998, p. 1.) *