By Frances Bishopp

Novo Nordisk A/S and Dyax Corp. have established a collaboration to develop new research tools that will allow more rapid evaluation of therapeutic candidates for development.

The agreement will make use of Dyax's phage display technology to develop systems and technologies to increase the rate of discovery of new leads developed by Novo Nordisk, Robert Dishman, president of the separations division at Dyax, told BioWorld Today. The work, he said, will be done through his division, which develops products for unmet needs, as well as products for customer-specific applications under royalty-bearing development agreements.

The research phase of the collaboration will be two years. Financial terms were not disclosed.

"We will be doing the work," Dishman said. "Novo will have exclusive rights to use these particular products in the field of drug discovery."

The separations division, Dishman said, makes systems for the purification of pharmaceuticals. "One application we think will be most important in the future," Dishman said, "is to make those separation processes, which are chromatographic processes, much more selective.

"The way we are doing that is developing very highly selective molecules, ligands, to immobilize on chromatographic support. This will help reduce many-step separations to several steps," Dishman said.

Dyax uses its phage display technology to develop affinity chromatography separation products to reduce the time required for the introduction of new therapeutic products and to reduce the cost of purification of pharmaceuticals.

The phage display technology provides a more efficient and sensitive means of identifying and capturing desired molecules from complex mixtures, the company said. Conceptually, most pharmaceutical products are based on a system of "locks" (therapeutic targets: mole- cules or enzymes) and "keys" (compounds which link to a therapeutic target).

Researchers start with either the lock * in the form of an assay or screen — or a key — in the form of a candidate compound * then search for the appropriate partner. This matching process often involves trying thousands of combinations in a tedious labor-intensive, trial-and-error search.

Phage display condenses this process by enabling researchers to try millions of possible combinations over a short period of time, usually only a few weeks. Since the process can be initiated with either a known key or lock, scientists can search for compounds to treat a specific disease, to diagnose the presence of disease or to separate and purify pharmaceutical products from the complex mixtures that are the output of early stages of pharmaceutical production.

Prior to the invention of phage display, proteins were produced and tested one at a time and a single scientist could analyze only a few molecules in a year. With phage display, a single scientist can produce and test hundreds of millions of proteins in a few weeks.

A privately held company, Dyax, of Cambridge, Mass., was formed in August 1995 when Protein Engineering Corp., with its phage display technology, joined forces with Biotage Inc., which developed chromatography systems. *