By Mary Welch

In a deal almost exactly like one inked a few weeks ago, Irori Inc. will develop an advanced, ultra-high-throughput combinatorial chemistry system using its NanoReactor technology for Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc. (RPR). The price tag is $10.5 million, including a $4.5 million equity investment in the La Jolla, Calif.-based company. RPR, of Collegeville, Pa., is a subsidiary of Rhone-Poulenc Group SA, of Cedex, France.

The two-year deal includes an $800,000 up-front payment, along with milestones and licensing fees. RPR also has an option to purchase an additional NanoReactor system. With the new system, the company will be able to synthesize up to 25,000 compounds a week, which will significantly speed up drug discovery and development.

"It's essentially the same deal we did a few weeks back with Bristol-Myers Squibb," said Richard Brown, vice president of business development. "As we went through the negotiation process, things were going on simultaneously and they closed within two weeks. It's a high-class problem to have." New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. paid Irori at least $10 million for its NanoReactor. (See BioWorld Today, June 3, 1998. p. 1.)

Both giant companies already use Irori's AccuTag solid-phase chemical synthesis technology. "Both are very early adoptees of our technology and both have made big use of it for their lead optimization programs. Now they are extending our technology into lead discovery. Rhone-Poulenc has an urgent need to fill its new drug pipeline, and this gives it the means to do that. And, of course, it's a huge benefit to Irori," said Brown. Currently more than 30 chemists at RPR research sites worldwide use the AccuTag systems.

Introduced in 1996, the AccuTag-100 combinatorial chemistry system can create large libraries of compounds simultaneously and identify and tag each one using a radio frequency. Thousands of discrete compounds can be rapidly synthesized and then tracked through the whole combinatorial chemistry process.

Micro-Production Of Compounds Should Cut Costs

Irori's NanoReactor technology will allow RPR to synthesize thousands of compounds of known structure per week while reducing cost and physical space taken up by the technology. Since the compounds will be produced in micro-quantities nearly 10 times smaller than existing ones, the cost of reagents will be less.

Rather than use a radio frequency tag, the NanoReactor uses a 2-D bar code that looks like a miniaturized checkerboard, with a pattern of black and white spots becoming the tag associated with each compound. (See BioWorld Today, June 3, 1998, p. 1.)

It will take Irori, a privately held company, about two years to develop the new NanoReactor and, as individual modules are delivered to RPR, milestone payments will be triggered.

Both RPR and Bristol-Myers made a $4.5 million equity investment in Irori, whose cash needs are now met, Brown said. He doesn't anticipate any more equity partnerships in the near future. In exchange for the equity positions, both companies received a co-exclusive deal that means Irori won't make its NanoReactor technology accessible to anyone else for two years. "It works out well," said Brown. *