Genome Therapeutics Corp. said Friday it has completed sequencingof the entire Helicobacter pylori genome, making the Waltham,Mass.-based company the first to announce that it has identified thebacterium's approximately 2,000 genes.

H. pylori is a bacterial infection believed to be responsible for mostpeptic ulcers and gastritis and may be linked to stomach cancer.Hundreds of millions of people worldwide could be infected with thebacterium, including nearly half of all Americans.

Gerald Vovis, senior vice president of research and development,said the identification of the organism's complete genome not onlywill help develop drugs to fight the infection, but also may shedmore light on the operation of the human immune system and howother infections work.

"Since this organism forms a persistent infection and stays withpeople for most of their lives . . . there must be genes that regulatethe bacterium so that it isn't overcome by the immune system,"Vovis said.

In addition, identification of the H. pylori genes, company officialssaid, could help in the discovery of better diagnostic tests as well as avaccine for the infection.

H. pylori infections currently are treated with antibiotics, but thoseremedies are threatened by the body's development of resistance tothe drugs, which can occur with frequent use of antibiotics.

Genome Therapeutics, using a multiplex sequencing technologylicensed from Harvard University, completed the identification of thebacterium's 2,000 genes in five months, one month earlier thanexpected.

By comparison, the human genome has approximately 100,000genes and the worldwide effort to sequence them is only about 10percent complete.

Vovis said Genome Therapeutics is talking with potential corporatepartners for development of drug candidates using the H. pylori genesequence data. n

-- Charles Craig

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