By Mary Welch

Genetics Institute's DiscoverEase library isn't that different from a traditional library, except instead of books, the inventory is human secreted proteins, the corresponding genes and a database of related information. And, like the library, it needs infusions of new books in this case full-length human genes from AlphaGene Inc. and it needs customers to take the books out in this case, Immunex Corp.

So Genetics Institute, of Cambridge, Mass., a wholly owned subsidiary of American Home Products Corp., of Madison, N.J., got good news Tuesday from both ends of the library process.

Thanks to an agreement with AlphaGene, of Woburn, Mass., Genetics Institute gets an exclusive license to AlphaGene's fully sequenced and fully characterized human genes for previously unknown proteins, said Gregory Abbott, acting president and CEO of AlphaGene.

"Our technology for isolating genes and providing large numbers of full-length clones of human tissue fits naturally into Genetics Institute's DiscoverEase initiative. We're providing the significant technology that contributes to the beginning part of the discovery process, not the end. But it's the critical first step," Abbott said.

While AlphaGene's agreement with Genetics Institute is exclusive, it does not prevent AlphaGene from licensing different genes to other parties. Nor does Genetic Institute intend to restock its library using only AlphaGene's clones. Genetics Institute has similar alliances with Genset SA, of Paris, and Affymetrix Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif.

Genetics Institute's library of secreted proteins is offered to companies for their own research needs. The proteins are a source of therapeutic candidates, targets for small molecule drugs and disease markers for diagnostic tests.

Immunex The Ninth DiscoverEase Participant

On the customer end, Seattle-based Immunex joins eight other firms participating in the DiscoverEase program. American Home Products owns 54 percent of Immunex.

Immunex intends to use the library for faster identification of immune system proteins for therapeutic purposes, particularly in the fields of onocology, inflammation and infectious diseases.

"This deal gives us a new source of genes," said Michael Widmer, vice president of biological sciences at Immunex. "Through them, we will get a good number of biological screens with which to select molecules for our research."

Other companies participating in the DiscoverEase program are Bayer AG, of Leverkusen, Germany; Chiron Corp., of Emeryville, Calif.; Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., of Tokyo; Genentech Inc., of South San Francisco; Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd., of Tokyo; Ontogeny Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.; and Scios Inc., of Mountain View, Calif.

Adelene Perkins, Genetics Institute's vice president of emerging businesses and general manager of the DiscoverEase program, said both announcements bode well for the library.

"It's important for us to create a library that is as comprehensive as possible as quickly as possible and so we're always looking for clones at add to the library," she said. "With AlphaGene on board, it provides us an even faster way to access as many clones as possible."

As for Immunex's pact, Perkins said an increasing number of companies want access to the clones. The DiscoverEase business structure encourages participation by companies of all sizes since it allows researchers to conduct broad laboratory and preclinical research for a relatively low upfront fee.

If companies find something — and they have, Perkins said, without offering details Genetics Institute has the option to become a codeveloper and co-commercializer on the project.

If Genetics Institute doesn't want to pursue that option, which also would involve sharing the cost of clinical development, it has the right to receive benchmark fees and royalties. *