HAMBURG, Germany - Lion Bioscience AG, an integrated genomics company founded in March 1997, reported it signed DM20 million in deals and achieved a positive cash flow in its first year.

With a strong focus on bioinformatics, Lion, of Heidelberg, Germany, offers complete project management for small genome analysis and large complementary DNA (cDNA) sequencing projects. Several undisclosed cooperations with industry partners in Europe and the U.S. and a collaboration agreement with Hoechst AG, of Frankfurt, Germany, have contributed to Lion's development.

Lion, an abbreviation for “laboratories for the investigation of nucleotide sequences,“ was set up by Friedrich von Bohlen, a biochemist with training in business economics.

“Back in 1983, when I finished my degree, prospects for founding a biotechnology company in Germany were dim,“ von Bohlen told BioWorld International. “So I was diverted from the field and made a career in a car component supplier. But in summer 1996, just by chance, I met a specialist in molecular medicine and he told me about the prospects in molecular diagnostics.“

Von Bohlen decided to have a market analysis done and entered into negotiations with scientists of the Heidelberg region. “The prospects were really amazing,“ he said. “So by the end of 1996, I decided to go.“

Lion was founded with an equity of DM4.5 million completely held by the seven founders. Among the cofounders are Peer Bork, of the Max-Delbrück Center, of Berlin, and Wilhelm Ansorge, of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), in Heidelberg.

Lion has close scientific cooperations with EMBL, the German Cancer Research Center, the European Bioinformatics Institute, the University of Heidelberg, the Gesellschaft für Biologische Forschung, of Braunschweig, Germany, and the University of Oxford, in the U.K. These alliances have given Lion access to several technologies, including high-throughput sequencing, bioinformatics, production of ordered genome libraries, and mapping and array profiling techniques for expression analysis.

In exchange for technology transfer, the EMBL's council authorized the institution to accept shares in the company earlier this year - a step viewed as pathbreaking in Germany.

Lion provides services in gene mapping and sequencing for a broad spectrum of customers, but is also establishing long-term integrated partnerships with a small number of larger companies.

With a proprietary DNA sequence technology called ARAKIS, developed by EMBL, a simultaneous sequencing of both DNA strands can be performed. The company said it has a capacity of about 500 sequence reads a day for cDNA library sequencing and can perform the sequencing of a typical 4 megabase bacterial genome in six to 12 months, depending on the genome's complexity.

“Potential projects may range from profiling of organisms to development of new antibiotics to optimization of production strains,“ von Bohlen said. “Besides, we offer our BioSCOUT system, a complete bioinformatic solution, that not only annotates coding regions and regulatory elements automatically, but can perform even complete genome comparisons and predict secondary and 3-D structure.“

Lion To Move Beyond Germany

Customers can integrate their own databases and either install the system on-site or access Lion's computer system via a leased line. Von Bohlen said BioSCOUT was expanded to integrate combinatorial chemistry and chemical informatics.

“I think we are unique in the genomics field because we are integrating bioinformatics and a very sophisticated molecular biology laboratory,“ von Bohlen added. “Customers do not want just megabytes of sequence data, but specific knowledge and advice.

“We prefer to offer a highly targeted approach in providing sequence information,“ he said. “Thanks to the unique constellation of renowned research centers here in Heidelberg, we can rely on highly qualified expertise. In addition, we were able to gather a team of worldwide leading experts in the field of differential genome analysis and function prediction.“

Starting with less than 20 people, the company now has a staff of more than 50 full-time employees.

For 1998, von Bohlen expressed high expectations. “We are planning to establish subsidiaries in Europe and in the U.S. this year and, after moving to a new, 1,800 square meter facility in June, I expect the staff size to exceed 100 by the end of this year.

“We are happy to be in a very healthy economic situation. We have an excellent staff and a very advanced and reliable technology,“ he said.

The business plan anticipates total investments of more than DM8 million for 1998 and more than DM40 million within the next five years. “So our vision to become the leading genomics company in Europe soon does not seem far-fetched to me,“ he observed. *