Two French organizations, Genset and Genethon, agreed Wednesday tojointly fund and operate a new laboratory to sequence and analyze theregulatory regions of the human genome.The laboratory will be called TGS, or Tres Grand Sequencage, andinitially will be funded with $11 million. About $5 million will comefrom Genethon, a non-profit research center in Evry, France, and morethan $6 million will be provided by Genset, a Paris-based, privatebiopharmaceutical company. Genset also will manage the lab and willget commercial rights to any applications of the research. The twoorganizations jointly will own the data developed.The agreement extends through 1996. Within that period, the twoorganizations said they expect to decipher the complete genomeregulatory code. The human genome consists of 100,000 genes. About5 percent are part of the regulatory code, which activates and triggersgene expression.The private-industry collaboration is the first for Genethon, whichfocuses on gene mapping and sequencing. Genethon's funding comesprimarily from an annual telethon to benefit the French musculardystrophy association, called AFM. Last year the group raised $60million.Genethon's Pierre Birambeau told BioWorld Today, "The purpose ofthis agreement is to get as quickly as possible to new drugs to curedisease."In analyzing genome regulatory codes, the TGS program will identifytranscription factors and their binding sites, order them and determinetheir combinations for gene regulation. Understanding howtranscription factors inhibit or activate gene expression is a crucial stepin determining the cause of hereditary disease and in correcting theregulatory sequence. Both the transcription factors and bindingsequences are prime pharmacological targets.Diseases such as cancer, inflammation and cardiovascular disordersalready have been traced to inappropriate or ill-timed activity oftranscription factors.Marc Vasseur, Genset's chief scientific officer, told BioWorld thatamong the initial priorities of the TGS program will be gene expressionpatterns in neuromuscular and skin tissue diseases.Pascal Brandys, Genset's president and CEO, said the $11 millionagreement between his company and Genethon will cover start-upcosts. TGS will begin operating this year in Genethon's labs. A newfacility will be built next year.Brandys said that to complete analysis of the genome regulatory codeover the next 30 months will cost a total of $60 million. He said heexpects to attract other partners to share the funding. In Genset'sagreement with Genethon, the two will review their progress twice ayear to determine the need for more financing.The approach being taken by Genset and Genethon to understandingthe root causes of diseases is complementary to the gene sequencingundertaken by American companies, such as Incyte PharmaceuticalsInc., of Palo Alto, Calif. Randy Scott, Incyte's vice president ofresearch and development, said the information derived in bothstrategies is valuable in developing new drug targets.Birambeau agreed, saying the association with Genset is the nextlogical step for Genethon in its efforts to find and treat the causes ofgenetic diseases.Vasseur said any organization involved in gene sequencing would beinterested in knowing what is "upstream," which is where theregulatory code is functioning."We believe we will have a lot of organizations interested in theregulatory code and we have our own internal projects for developingdrugs," Vasseur said.Genset, formed in 1989, markets oligonucleotide-based products forgene discovery, gene analysis and gene regulation. The company has aU.S. subsidiary, Genset Corp., in San Diego. The French and U.S.DNA production plants make oligonucleotides for research projectsand preclinical and clinical trials.Genethon was formed in 1990 as a research center and library forhuman genome analysis. In 1993, Genethon and CEPH (Centred'etude du Polymorphisme Humain) produced the first physical mapof the human genome. n

-- Charles Craig

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