Hoechst Marion Roussel has followed its initial entry intogene therapy earlier this week with two collaborationsthat help establish a genomics infrastructure.

The Germany-based pharmaceutical company saidThursday it will pay nearly $50 million over three yearsin separate collaborations. One is to tap into the genomicsdata bases of Incyte Pharmaceuticals Inc., and the othergains Hoechst access to sequencing technology beingdeveloped by Lynx Therapeutics Inc.

On Tuesday, Hoechst Marion Roussel (HMR), ofFrankfurt, announced a deal worth up to $160 million tocollaborate with Cell Genesys Inc., of Foster City, Calif.,on the latter's gene therapy for AIDS. In that deal, $50million is committed over the first two years, and muchof the initial and future funding is earmarked fordevelopment of Cell Genesys' AIDS therapy, whichalready is in human trials. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 11,1995, p. 1.)

Hoechst officials said the three investments show that theworld's third largest pharmaceutical company is seriousabout opportunities in genomics and gene therapy, andbiotechnology in general.

"We are saying that we're committed to biotechnology,"said Christoph Pittius, director of business developmentfor HMR, which is the pharmaceutical arm of HoechstAG. "Gene therapy is a treatment of the future, andgenomics is a very good technology for finding newtargets. It won't be our last deal. We are looking for othertechnologies in the gene therapy area, and others ingenomics."

Specific terms of the two new deals were not released.But Lynx said it could receive $35 million in equity,research and development support and subscription feesby the end of 1998. That collaboration is the first forHayward, Calif.-based Lynx as it relates to its MassivelyParallel Signature Sequencing (MPSS) technology, whichstill is being developed.

MPSS involves cloning cDNAs, without biologicalvectors, onto solid phase media, and then sequencing asmany as one million cDNA clones simultaneously usingbase-by-base sequencing techniques, said David Martin,the president of privately held Lynx.

Martin would not say how far the technology is frombeing ready for use, but he said "the vote of confidencefrom Hoechst should convey their optimism and ouroptimism about the likelihood of success and appropriatetiming." He added that the funding from Hoechst shouldaccelerate development.

The agreement stipulates that no more than two othercompanies can access the MPSS technology before theend of 1997. After 1997, Hoechst will be guaranteedaccess, at favorable subscription fees.

The Incyte deal is structured similarly to non-exclusivedeals the Palo Alto, Calif., company has with three othermajor pharmaceutical companies, said Roy Whitfield,Incyte's president and CEO.

Those already signed on to Incyte's DNA sequence andgene expression data base are New York-based PfizerInc., whose $25 million payment included $9 million inequity; The Upjohn Co., of Kalamazoo, Mich., paid $20million, about half in equity; and Denmark-based NovoNordisk A/G paid an undisclosed sum that officials saidwas similar to the first two deals. Neither Novo Nordisknor Hoechst took an equity position in Incyte, Whitfieldsaid.

"Our objective is to get the data bases in the hands of asmany researchers worldwide as we can," Whitfield said."It's an extremely powerful research tool."

Charles Rouse, director of communications for HRM'sU.S. arm in Kansas City, Mo., said Hoechst intended tomove in this direction after completion of the acquisitionof Marion Merrell Dow Inc., the final piece of which wastaken care of last month.

"That enables us to move forward on some of thestrategic directions the new company wanted to move in,"Rouse said. "It sends the very strong signal that we meanto be a main player in this area of research, and in thepharmaceutical business in general. The companies thatare going to be the big players must get involved in thesekinds of things [genomics and gene therapy]."

Incyte (AMEX:IPI) gained 88 cents Thursday to close at$23 per share. n

-- Jim Shrine

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