By Randall Osborne

Having already identified more than 130 compounds from Conus snails, Cognetix Inc. acquired Viatech Imagine LLC to speed up the process of screening about 50,000 conopeptides for treating nervous system disorders and other diseases.

"It takes us leaps and bounds above where we were," said Tyler McCabe, vice president of research and development for Salt Lake City-based Cognetix.

The company will use Viatech's high-throughput quantitative fluorimetry and scanning laser confocal microscopy, which will outrun Cognetix's much slower electrophysiology-based approach, McCabe told BioWorld Today.

"We're not screening hordes of libraries, millions of compounds per year," he said. "We're doing a biased and directed screening effort, where we bias our screens for certain ion channels instead of looking at receptor activity at any site."

Cognetix, which is focused on particular conopeptides for central nervous system disorders including pain, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease, plans to maintain operations at Viatech's laboratory in Ivoryton, Conn. The company expects to begin clinical trials in epilepsy next year.

"We pursued a couple different areas and that's where we got an enormous amount of activity and safety," McCabe said, referring to preclinical research in epilepsy. "We have some corporate interests that are pushing that along."

Some 50,000 Active Compounds In Conus Snails

The company began directing its scientific explorations toward the Conus snail after a researcher in the Philippines noted activity in the fish-hunting, predatory snails and became curious.

"Lo and behold, there's an average of 100 active components in each species, and a total of at least 500 species," McCabe said.

Last month, Cognetix raised $6 million in a venture financing: $4 million up front and $2 million in near-term milestone payments. (See BioWorld Today, June 23, 1998, p. 1.)

Last February, Cognetix teamed up with CytoTherapeutics Inc., of Providence, R.I., to develop therapies for neurological disorders. The deal included a 20 percent equity investment by CytoTherapeutics. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 21, 1997, p. 1.) *