By Randall Osborne

Cognetix Inc., which uses venom from marine snails to develop drugs for central nervoussystem (CNS) disorders, raised $6 million to step up the pace of its programs.

"We've already taken one of [the venom extracts] pretty far, for the treatment of epilepsy,"said Davis Temple, CEO of Salt Lake City-based Cognetix. The drug, which Templedescribed as "probably the most potent anti-convulsive agent known," has drawn theinterest of a large potential partner.

Under terms of the venture financing, Cognetix received $4 million up front and expectsanother $2 million in near-term milestone payments.

Cognetix works with conopeptides, small molecules derived from the Conus species ofpredatory snail, often called the cone snail. Conopeptides bind to receptors and ionchannels in the nervous system with great specificity and high affinity — offeringpotential for CNS agents without the side effects of current therapies.

Cognetix believes that at least 50,000 bioactive conopeptides exist, providing an extensivenatural library. Of these, more than 130 have been fully characterized.

The toxic venom "tends to hit neurological targets from different directions, which is notgood," Temple told BioWorld Today. However, when the components areisolated, they can be very useful.

"We synthesize it ourselves in the peptide lab after that," Temple said. The compoundshave "specificity thousands of times greater than you could ever get with a smallmolecule," he added.

"These snails have been doing their own medicinal chemistry for millions of years,"Temple said. "A [human] medicinal chemist probably has until the next review meeting towork on it."

Neurex Takes Conopeptide To Phase III

One conopeptide compound already has proven itself in Phase III clinical trials againstchronic malignant pain caused by cancer or AIDS. Ziconotide, a synthetic peptide basedon the snail-venom derivative, showed positive results in the Phase III trial by NeurexCorp., of Menlo Park, Calif., and Neurex's joint venture with Minneapolis-basedMedtronic Inc. is developing an implantable pump for delivering Ziconotide to the spine.(See BioWorld Today, April 1, 1998, p. 1.)

A month after release of the trial results, Elan Corp., of Dublin, Ireland, agreed to takeover Neurex for $741 million in Elan stock. (See BioWorld Today, April 30,1998, p. 1.)

Cognetix also will be working on drugs to treat pain, Temple said.

"We're not necessarily working on one drug, but on a whole family of approaches," headded.

Cognetix's collaborators in conopeptides for CNS disorders include CytoTherapeuticsInc., of Providence, R.I., and Sibia Neurosciences Inc., of La Jolla, Calif. (SeeBioWorld Today, Feb. 12, 1998, p. 1, and July 30, 1996, p. 1.) *