Axiom Biotechnologies Inc., a San Diego start-up company, andZaiya Inc., a two-year-old Japanese biotechnology firm, arelaunching a drug discovery program applying the former's cell-basedscreening technology to the latter's genetic targets for treatingallergies, asthma and inflammation.

Pandi Veerapandian, Axiom's president, said the researchcollaboration is the first for both companies. Financial terms of thethree-year deal were not disclosed.

Zaiya, of Kyoto, focuses on modulating intracellular signalingpathways to combat diseases. The firm's president, Hiroki Yoshihara,was president of Cambridge, Mass.-based Genzyme Corp.'s Japanesedivision, Genzyme Japan KK, in Tokyo. Prior to forming Zaiya,Yoshihara was president and CEO of Transpect Inc., a biomedicalconsulting firm.

Axiom, founded in 1995, developed what it calls a high-throughputpharmacological screening technology designed to acceleratesignificantly the evaluation of compounds on intracellular signalingpathways within human cells.

Veerapandian and his co-founders financed the start-up of Axiomwithout venture capital funding. The company applied for a U.S.patent on its technology earlier this year.

Axiom, Veerapandian said, is positioning itself to form alliances withpharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for drug discovery. Headded his firm, which has eight employees, currently is negotiatingcorporate partnerships and is seeking financing from institutionalinvestors to expand the business.

In the agreement with Zaiya, Axiom will receive research funds,milestone payments and royalties on drugs emanating from thecollaboration.

The centerpiece of Axiom's drug discovery technique is a "cellphysiometer," which uses human cells to screen libraries of smallmolecules for initial hits on genetic targets; to evaluate the doseresponse of those compounds; and to assess the biological effect _all in rapid fashion.

The device, Veerapandian said, analyzes the "correlation of thecompound binding to target molecules and the physiological responseof the cells in a high-throughput format."

"The cell physiometer," observed Jim Linton, Axiom's director ofbusiness development and corporate communications, "gives a muchbetter assessment of what a compound can do in vivo."

In the collaboration with Zaiya, the Japanese firm will provide thegene products and Axiom will generate compounds based on them.Veerapandian said the deal may be expanded beyond three years toinclude other genetic targets.

The research agreement with Zaiya will focus on CD40, a B cellsurface receptor, which activates intracellular signaling proteins thatcause B cells to produce immunoglobulin E (IgE). Elevated levels ofIgE in the blood have been linked to asthma, allergies and otherinflammatory diseases.

Axiom will attempt to develop small-molecule compounds that enterB cells and block the signaling proteins, preventing IgE production.

In Axiom's drug screening approach, natural B cells are used toscreen drug candidates. Most other advanced screening technologiesgenetically engineer surrogate cells to express targeted receptors fortesting of compounds.

Axiom's approach is faster and provides an analysis of the potentialdrug in the context of the targeted human cell. In addition to judginga compound's ability to affect intracellular signaling, the cellphysiometer makes other evaluations, such as side effects. n

-- Charles Craig

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