By Frances Bishopp

Ribozyme Pharmaceuticals Inc. has granted IntelliGene Ltd. a worldwide exclusive license to develop and sell diagnostics for several target diseases using ribozymes in amplified nucleic acid formats.

Ribozyme (RPI), of Boulder, Colo., which develops new classes of human therapeutics using ribozymes, was founded in 1992. The company also uses ribozymes to determine which gene sequences are appropriate therapeutic targets.

IntelliGene is a privately held company headquartered in Jerusalem, with an office in Sudbury, Mass. IntelliGene develops diagnostic products using novel ribozymes created using a process called vitro evolution. The technology uses the unique features of ribozymes to create diagnostic tests with high specificity and sensitivity characteristic of amplified gene probe tests, simplified sample preparation and a 30-minute turnaround time.

Ribozymes are a form of RNA that have the ability to selectively inhibit protein production.

IntelliGene has obtained a worldwide license for several infectious diseases, Ralph Christoffersen, president and CEO of Ribozyme, told BioWorld Today. "This license allows them to use their funds to develop, market and sell diagnostics based on ribozymes," Christoffersen said.

Initial products are expected in 2000. RPI received a license fee and will receive royalties on product sales.

RPI has the Cech patent, which, thus far, has issued in the U.S., Europe and Japan and the claims in each case are very broad, Christoffersen said. "They essentially cover all methods of production and all uses of ribozymes," Christoffersen said.

The Cech patent is named after Thomas Cech, who received a Nobel Prize for his discovery of ribozymes.

RPI has also collaborated with Chiron Corp., of Emeryville, Calif., and the Parke-Davis Division of the Warner Lambert Co., of Morris Plains, N.J., to develop ribozyme products for specific therapeutic targets.

RPI also has a second agreement with Chiron for use ribozymes to determine target validation, a feasibility study with DowElanco, of Indianapolis, to provide agricultural applications of ribozymes, a collaboration with Pharmacia Biotech AB, of Sweden, on the production-scale synthesis of RNA and chimeric oligonucleotides and another collaboration with Protogene Laboratories, of San Francisco, to develop automated machines for production of large numbers of ribozymes.

RPI, as of the end of the third quarter, had approximately $23 million cash on hand. RPI's stock (NASDAQ:RZYM) closed Tuesday at $12.50, up $0.25. *