By Randall Osborne

Aiming to test the often-touted promise of pharmacogenomics in human subjects, Axys Pharmaceuticals Inc. has signed an agreement with American Home Products Corp. for a clinical trial that will study the role played by one of Axys' gene variants in drug metabolism.

"I don't think we're the first to do something in humans, but it's certainly the first Axys gene to be tested," said David Gennarelli, spokesman for South San Francisco-based Axys.

Under terms of the deal, the Axys gene variant — identified in the cytochrome p450 3A4 gene — will be evaluated for its effect on the metabolism of two classes of marketed drugs. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, a division of Madison, N.J.-based American Home, will conduct the study and Axys will provide the genotyping of patients.

The drugs were not identified and no further terms of the deal were disclosed.

For approved drugs, the pharmacogenomic approach could mean better labeling and more targeted marketing and prescribing. For drug research, it offers the possibility of better trial results, since patients who would suffer side effects, or no effect, could be eliminated at the outset.

Jean Warner, vice president of medical affairs for Axys, said the trial is intended to confirm the gene variant, or polymorphism, confers a certain phenotype.

"The literature says 60 percent of currently approved drugs are metabolized by this cytochrome p450 system, so it's an enzyme that gets a lot of drugs," Warner said. "My slogan with pharmacogenomics is, 'The right drug at the right dose at the right time.' That's what we should be able to do."

Other companies are committing to similar science. Last year, Paris-based Genset SA entered a $42.5 million pharmacogenomics deal with Abbott Laboratories, of Abbot Park, Ill. (See BioWorld Today, July 29, 1997, p. 1.)

That deal is more extensive, providing for Abbott to develop, produce and market diagnostic systems derived from the partnership.

Axys' stock (NASDAQ:AXPH) closed Tuesday at $7.062, up $0.062. *