Geron Corp., which is developing small molecule drugs aimed atinducing cell death in cancer tumors, entered into a collaborationworth up to $30 million with Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co. Ltd., aJapanese oncology firm.

Officials of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Geron declined to discussdetails of the agreement, except to say that it involves researchfunding and milestone payments in exchange for granting Kogyomanufacturing and marketing rights in Asia.

Geron said it retains rights to its potential drugs elsewhere in theworld and may seek additional corporate partners. Since its foundingin 1992, the privately held company has raised $31.1 million.

Geron's drug development is based on inhibiting telomerase, which isan enzyme that "immortalizes" tumor cells, making them malignant.

Calvin Harley, Geron's vice president of research, said the companyhas not yet selected a project compound for preclinical studies.

Harley, in a 1994 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academyof Sciences, was the first to report that telomerase is present in cancercells, but not in normal cells. (See BioWorld Today, April 12, 1994,p. 1.)

Telomerase is described as a germline enzyme that normally is aimedat immortalizing reproductive cells to ensure perpetuation of thespecies. In cancerous tumor cells, it has the same effect, allowingthem to multiply indefinitely. In normal cells, telomerase is turned offas part of genetically determined cell-senescence.

By inhibiting the enzyme, Harley said, the tumor cells should stopdividing and die. "It's not just the immune system that would clearthem away," he said, "without the enzyme they become geneticallyunstable."

In addition to targeting cancer tumors, drug development based ontelomerase could have applications for a variety of age-relateddiseases, such as atherosclerosis and osteoarthritis. n

-- Charles Craig

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