By Randall Osborne

Phytera Inc. added to its list of collaborators Chiron Corp., which will screen Phytera'snatural product extracts for drug leads, including potential anticancer agents.

"It's a somewhat different relationship," said Malcolm Morville, president and CEO ofWorcester, Mass.-based Phytera. "[Chiron] is going to own the products that come out ofthis. With our other collaborations, we've retained product rights to a significant extent."

In exchange for an up-front payment and funding, Phytera will provide its ExPAND plantcell culture extracts and uMARINE marine microorganism extracts to Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron for high-throughput screening.

Phytera, which also could get option and license fees based on Chiron's selection ofcompounds for further development, will provide Chiron with natural product chemistryfor the bioassay-guided fractionation, isolation and structural identification of activecompounds.

Potential milestone payments and royalties for Phytera are included in the deal. But Chirongets worldwide marketing rights, Morville said.

While other deals allowed more proprietary rights to products, they also came with lessfinancial support, he added.

"We've looked on it as a strategy," Morville told BioWorld Today. "Our overallstrategy is to do things at both ends of the spectrum and in the middle."

Technique Generates New Chemicals

Phytera's technologies enable it to manipulate plant cells and marine microbes in culture inorder to modulate genomic expression and change metabolic pathways, thus oftenresulting in chemicals not found in the originating species.

Other Phytera collaborators include NeuroSearch A/S, of Glostrup, Denmark, fordiscovering agents that interact with potassium ion channels and may prevent suchdiseases as memory and attention disorders, depression, asthma and diabetes; Tsumura& Co., of Tokyo, for discovery of small-molecule compounds to treat rheumatoidarthritis and allergies; Amersham International plc, of Little Chalfont, U.K., to identifydiagnostic enzymes; and Galileo Laboratories, of Sunnyvale, Calif., which is screeningExPAND and uMARINE extracts for anti-ischemic agents.

Founded in 1992, Phytera first focused its drug discovery efforts on genetic manipulationof plant cells to form compounds. In 1996, it acquired Neptune Pharmaceuticals Inc., alsoof Worcester, and continued Neptune's research with marine microbes for new treatments.(See BioWorld Today, April 3, 1996, p. 1.)

Phytera also has products in the preclinical stage. One is an antiviral aimed at acyclovir-resistant herpes. The drug has shown anti-inflammatory activity as well. "Hopefully, it willbe in the clinic next year," Morville said.

Next in the pipeline is an antifungal. "I suspect it's probably a year or so behind," hesaid. *