Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Aurora Biosciences Corp. have signedan agreement which gives Bristol-Myers the rights to Aurora'sfluorescent screening technology and provides for a collaborationbetween the two companies on the development of specific screeningassays and Aurora's proprietary Ultra-High-Throughput ScreeningSystem.

The deal has a potential value in excess of $40 million and couldgenerate additional revenues of up to $60 million, if Bristol-Myersexercises its options for further screens, research funding andmilestone payments. Aurora also will earn royalties on productsidentified from the technology. The agreement did not include thesale of any stock.

"This is an exciting collaboration that will put Bristol-Myers in theforefront of drug discovery," Doug Richards, associate director ofbiotechnology licensing at Bristol-Myers, told BioWorld Today.

"It is becoming clear in the industry that the jet fuel that drives thedrug discovery programs is the drug screening process. Thiscollaboration will allow Bristol-Myers to increase the speed by whichwe do tests 10- to 100-fold, plus we can do the testing lessexpensively," Richards said.

Aurora, located in La Jolla, Calif., is a privately held company whichfocuses on novel, mammalian cell-screens for drug discovery. Itsfluorescent bioassay technology is designed to rapidly developmolecular targets, conventional or genomic, into functional screens toidentify therapeutic lead compounds.

Aurora's second platform technology is the Ultra High ThroughputScreening System (UHTSS), which is designed to test hundreds ofthousands of compounds per day to identify potential leadcompounds.

Paul Grayson, director of business development at Aurora, whodescribed the fluorescence-based bioassay technologies as "a set oftools" and the Ultra-High Throughput Screening System as "aworkbench," said, "the UHTSS allows us and our collaborators toscreen in excess of 100,000 compounds per 24 hours, actually itcould be closer to 500,000, in the process of looking for newpotential lead products."

"Bristol-Myers Squib will be our first partner in a consortium of upto six partners that we will be working with to develop the Ultra-HighThroughput Screening System," Grayson said. "Up to now, we havebeen building the technology. Now we are going out and partneringwith large pharmaceutical companies."

Richards said that the current plan is for four major pharmaceuticalcompanies to share the development costs and co-exclusive access tothe UHTSS over the next several years. However, at this point, onlyBristol-Myers would be identified as one of the four. When thesystem is developed, he explained, the four companies can use it fortwo years. After the two-year period is over, Aurora will have theright to sell the system to any buyer.

In March, two-year old Aurora raised $13.6 million in first-roundequity, a deal, the company said, that positioned the company to takeadvantage of advances in both genomics and combinatorial chemistrythat have dramatically increased the biological targets and chemicaldiversity available for drug discovery. Aurora, which has 40employees, has raised a total $16.5 million in equity financing.

Aurora currently is collaborating with Sequana Therapeutics Inc., ofLa Jolla, Calif., in the area of functional genomics. Sequana is usingAurora's technologies to analyze the function of disease genes andAurora is developing ultra-high throughput screens for genetic targetsidentified by Sequana. The agreement provided Sequana withexclusive access to Aurora's technologies for positionally clonedgenes and preferential access to novel mammalian cell-basedscreening services.

Aurora also is collaborating with Alanex Corp., of San Diego, Alanexagreed to provide Aurora with a set of 150,000 discrete small organiccompounds from its exploratory chemical library for new leadgeneration in Aurora's drug discovery screening systems.

In September, Aurora entered into a collaboration with Arqule Inc.,of Medford, Mass., to use Aurora's technology to assess the activityof small-molecule compounds generated by Arqule's combinatorialchemistry techniques. n

-- Frances Bishopp

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.