By Randall Osborne

Aiming to speed the discovery of new antibiotics, Affymetrix Inc. and Human Genome Sciences Inc. (HGS) are teaming their strengths in a deal to develop bacterial probe arrays.

Under the terms of the agreement, Rockville, Md.-based HGS will provide gene sequence information on selected bacterial genomes to Affymetrix, of Santa Clara, Calif., which will design, make and sell GeneChip arrays based on the data.

"It's a three-year term, and there are 10 genomes involved," said Gardiner Smith, director of business development for HGS. Further details were not disclosed.

The deal carries two advantages for HGS, he added.

"Obviously, we gain a royalty in an active and increasing area," Smith told BioWorld Today. "It went through a lull a couple of years ago, but it's still a $25 billion-a-year market. The second thing is, we have the opportunity to use the chips ourselves."

HGS is believed to be the first to determine the genomes of major pathogens including Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus faecalis.

With the non-profit Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), also in Rockville, HGS determined the genome of Streptococcus pneumoniae in a deal with Roche Holding Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland. (See BioWorld Today, March 15, 1996, p. 1.)

HGS began collaborating with TIGR on gene sequencing in 1992 and the partnership ended last year. HGS has exclusive rights to bacterial genome sequences completed before June 1997, including those of Haemophilus influenzae and Borrelia burdorgferi (the microbe that carries Lyme disease from tick to human).

Affymetrix's GeneChip system consists of disposable DNA probe arrays, a scanner and other instruments for processing them, and software to analyze and manage information.

System Proven In Key Microorganisms

The company has shown the system works with microbial genomes by producing genome-based arrays displaying the complete set of genes of microorganisms commonly used in laboratory studies, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer's yeast).

"They're clearly a leader in the field of gene expression analysis," said Smith. Another strength in the project is "the quality and breadth of the sequence data [provided]," he added. "They were sequenced to a depth of several-fold coverage, and the breadth is the vast bulk of the organism."

HGS's stock (NASDAQ:HGSI) closed Thursday at $35.187, down $0.437. Affymetrix's shares ended the day at $24 down $0.125.