SAN FRANCISCO _ Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., a privatelyheld genomics company, shed some light on its push into thecardiovascular area Wednesday with the announcement of threescientific collaborations.

The Cambridge, Mass., company released the news at the Hambrecht& Quist Inc. 13th Annual Life Sciences Conference here.Millennium, which established itself as a major player in the obesityand Type II diabetes areas last March with a $70 million deal withHoffmann-La Roche Inc., now is establishing itself as a force inatherosclerosis.

The company said it already has programs under way in cancer andasthma and allergy, and less developed are programs in osteoporosisand central nervous system disorders.

The atherosclerosis collaborations are with Eric Topol at theCleveland Clinic Foundation, Jan Breslow at Rockefeller Universityin New York, and Michael Gimbrone of Brigham and Women'sHospital and Harvard University Medical School in Boston. Theagreements, respectively, aim to identify the genetic basis of thedisease using the clinic's data base, to better understand theprogression of the disease using mouse models, and to focus on theactivation of the endothelial cells that line blood vessel walls.

"These are three distinct approaches that are complementary andsynergistic," Steven Holtzman, Millennium's chief business officer,told BioWorld. The key, he said, is not only getting access to thethree areas but "hooking up with the best collaborators in the world."

Topol, chairman of the clinic's Department of Cardiology, led theGUSTO trials that studied clot-dissolving agents in acute myocardialinfarction. "They have access to relevant patient populations and atremendous clinical characterization of those people," Holtzmansaid.

Breslow, of Rockefeller, developed a mouse model ofatherosclerosis. His crossing of mice lines gives some insight into thegenetic factors involved in enhancing or decreasing susceptibility toprogression of the disease.

"The collaboration isn't to get the mouse," Holtzman said. "It's towork with Jan to elucidate the underlying effects of the initiation andprogression of atherosclerosis in the mouse. We're the onlycommercial company with which Jan is collaborating."

Gimbrone said in a statement released Wednesday that his laboratory"has invested many years of effort into the cell biology of thesesystems. By using Millennium's genomics approach to characterizethe endothelium at a detailed molecular level, we expect to be able torapidly identify and characterize genes important to the progressionof the diseased endothelial tissue."

Millennium, with 95 employees, uses genetics, genomics andbioinformatics to identify genes and determine their roles in disease.Mark Levin, named permanent CEO of the company earlier thisweek, told an H & Q session Wednesday that products are expectedto start entering the clinic in 1997.

In December the company announced two other collaborations, inthe areas of obesity and Type II diabetes. One, with the MedicalCollege of Wisconsin and TOPS (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly) ClubInc., will use TOPS' data base of 500,000 members to identifyfamilies for further study, Holtzman said. A deal with the Universityof Lund, Sweden, will use registries of diabetics in Sweden andFinland, where there is a more limited gene pool, to collect pairs ofsiblings for genetic analysis.

The five collaborations represent fewer than half that Millenniumcurrently has ongoing. And, Holtzman said, the company intends tohave about 20 such relationships by the end of the year.

Further, he said, "It's our business strategy to have over the nextthree years another three corporate collaborators," such as it has withHoffmann-La Roche.

More than half of the potential $70 million deal with Roche is inresearch support, Holtzman said. Last month Millennium said itreached the first two research milestones in that collaboration,triggering the final equity investments. While not specificallydisclosed, Roche's equity investment is believed to be less than $7million and its stake less than 15 percent. n

-- Jim Shrine

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