By Debbie Strickland

Genzyme Transgenics Corp. (GTC) inked a distribution agreement aimed at putting its protein expression technology into the hands of corporate and academic scientists at the earliest stages of research — thus turning the process into a competitor for such established recombinant media as yeast, E. coli and tissue cultures.

Invitrogen Corp., of Carlsbad, Calif., will package the expression system as a kit for use in research only, paying an undisclosed royalty on sales. Should a user decide to pursue production at commercial scale or for other commercial purposes, a separate agreement with Framingham, Mass.-based GTC would be required.

"Basically, it was our intention in making [the technology] available to researchers to lower the barriers to producing transgenic proteins in the milk of animals," said Pat Dimond, spokeswoman for GTC.

The expression system consists of the beta casein expression promoter and other DNA sequences, allowing the insertion of the customer's gene of interest into the DNA of a fertilized mouse ovum. The presence of the beta casein promoter confines expression of the gene in the mature, transgenic animal to the mammary gland during lactation and allows secretion of the desired protein into the animal's milk.

Because transgenic expression in milk can generate sizable quantities of proteins, the system could allow production of rare proteins in amounts large enough to do basic characterization studies and other bench work, Dimond said.

Early Research Could Lead To Commercial Deals

The order-by-catalog accessibility will also allow researchers to try out the system and compare it to others, with GTC hoping its method will selected if a decision to pursue commercial development occurs. From there, a collaboration, licensing or supply deal would be negotiated.

"Like putting an operating system in the hands of independent programmers, this distribution will lead to greatly expanded commercialization opportunities for our company," said James Geraghty, chairman of GTC, in a prepared statement.

The Invitrogen-offered product will be limited to milk expression of proteins in mice, a species GTC has used to perform proof-of-principle expression before moving on to dairy animals.

So far, the company has expressed about 30 human recombinant proteins in the milk of transgenic animals, including plasma proteins, monoclonal antibodies, receptors, non-secreted proteins, hormones and interferons.

GTC stock (NASDAQ:GZTC) closed Tuesday at $9.563, down $0.813. *