PharmaGenics Inc. and Boehringer Mannheim Therapeutics saidFriday they are collaborating to screen for drugs that restore thefunction of p53, a tumor suppresser gene believed to help preventcancer growth.

Privately held PharmaGenics has rights to a patent covering methodsto screen for drugs that restore p53 function. Michael Sherman,president and CEO of the Allendale, N.J. company, was one of theinventors of the patent, which was issued to Johns HopkinsUniversity and PharmaGenics.

The Xenova Group plc, of Slough, England, also has a non-exclusiveagreement with PharmaGenics related to discovery of drugs to restorep53 function. PharmaGenics licensed gene therapy rights to GeneticTherapy Inc., of Gaithersburg, Md., though a patent with genetherapy claims has not issued.

Terms of the deal with Boehringer Mannheim were not disclosed.Sherman told BioWorld the collaboration covers the research anddevelopment stage of the relationship, and would be extended ifactive compounds are identified.

"This is intended to be a close-knit collaboration," Sherman said."We have identified and developed assays to look for compoundsthat can restore lost function of p53," which will be used to screensmall molecules from Boehringer Mannheim's libraries.

"They will be screening a large number of compounds, both syntheticorganic molecules and microbial extracts," Sherman said. "We'llhave a pretty good idea of the likelihood of success in an 18-monthtime frame."

The gene was shown to suppress tumors by Bert Vogelstein,professor of oncology at The Johns Hopkins University School ofMedicine. He and Kenneth Kinzler, also of Johns Hopkins, are theother two patent inventors. Both are members of PharmaGenics'scientific advisory board.

More Partnerships Are Anticipated

"We are very anxious to find the best possible small moleculecompound that would have the ability to restore p53 function,"Sherman said. "We are offering the technology in a non-exclusiveway to companies that have suitable libraries for screening in ourassays. We are prepared to establish a number of these relationshipsto maximize the likelihood of success."

Guenter Schumacher, Germany-based Boehringer Mannheim's vicepresident, cell biology, said, "A collaboration like the one announcedtoday combines the ideas of a young innovative biotech company likePharmaGenics with the well-established infrastructure of a healthcare company like Boehringer Mannheim. This kind of joint venturewill be a successful way of new drug development in the future."

PharmaGenics has exclusive first rights to all therapeuticapplications, based on oligonucleotides, coming out of Vogelstein'swork. Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., of Nutley, N.J., has exclusive firstrights to all diagnostic approaches, and the companies share rights toother therapeutics not based on oligonucleotides. PharmaGenics getsroyalties on sales of Roche's diagnostic sales, Sherman said.

As to the Genetic Therapy arrangement, "There are certain criticalanimal experiments that [PharmaGenics] would like to see the resultsof before making a decision about the likelihood of success of p53gene therapy in the clinic," Sherman said. "We are in the process ofdesigning and carrying out these experiments."

In the Xenova deal, PharmaGenics will have marketing rights inNorth, South and Central America, and Xenova in the rest of theworld. n

-- Jim Shrine

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