Sequana Therapeutics Inc., a genomics company, and New York'sMemorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, signed a letter of intent tocontribute a combined $10 million to form a joint venture companyto discover cancer genes.

In the deal, announced after the market closed Tuesday, Sequana, ofLa Jolla, Calif., and Memorial Sloan-Kettering each will provide $5million in seed financing to create the new company, which has notbeen named.

The alliance represents Sequana's first move into cancer genomicsand a major shift into gene discovery by Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

Avice Meehan, vice president of public affairs for Memorial Sloan-Kettering, said the joint venture also is the first commercialcollaboration of its kind for the renowned non-profit cancer center.

The new company will make use of Sequana's positional cloningapproach to gene discovery and Memorial Sloan-Kettering's 30-yearcollection of tumor tissue samples and data from their analyses of thecancers.

A definitive agreement on the alliance is expected to be signed in late1996.

The research will target inherited gene defects, which are directlylinked to cancer, and somatic mutations, which increase the risk ofdeveloping the disease. The latter gene defects, which can betriggered by environmental factors, are believed responsible for 90percent of cancer cases.

Kevin Kinsella, president and CEO of Sequana, said the joint venturecompany will have access not only to tissue samples, but also datarelated to histological studies of the tumors, diagnoses made,treatments prescribed and outcomes achieved.

Initially the new firm will focus on breast, prostate and colon cancers,which account for 40 percent of all new cancers each year.

Identifying gene defects associated with the various stages and formsof cancer, Kinsella added, will provide more accurate markers fordiagnosing the disease and determining a course of prevention ortreatment. Better testing also could eliminate unnecessary therapies.

Kinsella said $10 million will support operations at the joint venturecompany for 18 months to two years before it has to raise additionalfunds.

The new firm, expected to have about 25 staffers by the end of thefirst year, will operate out of Sequana's headquarters until a separatefacility is found. Both organizations will supply personnel to launchthe research efforts.

Meehan said a search will be conducted for a president to lead thenew company. Sequana's Nicholas Dracopoli, who is vice presidentof molecular genetics, will become director of research for the jointventure.

Sequana and Memorial-Sloan Kettering will share equally inrevenues generated from the new firm's collaborations and productsdeveloped.

Sequana's stock (NASDAQ:SQNA) closed Tuesday at $16.50, down50 cents. The company's other gene discovery programs includealliances with pharmaceutical companies focusing on asthma,diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. n

-- Charles Craig

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