Gene therapy start-up company GenVec Inc. announcedMonday that it has acquired the exclusive rights to technologythat uses radiation as a switch to activate anti-cancer genes atthe desired time, level and location in the body.

GenVec licensed several fundamental patent applications onthe technology from the University of Chicago and the DanaFarber Cancer Institute in Boston. Radiation-controlled genetherapy was conceived by Ralph Weichselbaum, chairman ofradiation oncology at the University of Chicago, and DonaldKufe, chief of clinical pharmacology at Dana Farber.

In conjunction with the licensing arrangement, GenVecreceived an undisclosed equity investment from ARCH VentureFund, the venture capital arm of the University of Chicago.

GenVec of Rockville, Md., was established in March tocommercialize the in vivo gene therapy technologies pioneeredby National Institutes of Health (NIH) researcher RonaldCrystal, who has since moved to the New York Hospital-CornellMedical Center, where he is chief of the division of pulmonaryand critical-care medicine. Crystal, who founded GenVec, is alsoits chief scientific adviser.

Crystal's approach to gene therapy involves using adenoviralvectors to deliver genes directly to patients via the lung (trialsfor cystic fibrosis are currently under way at the NIH). But thenewly acquired radiation-induced technology is intended tocomplement those viral vectors.

"Using these viruses together with radiation-controlled genes,we may be able to control the delivery of toxins that can killcancer cells," Crystal said.

Since its founding, GenVec has raised $9 million in venture-backed equity financing and established a $17 millioncorporate partnership agreement with Genentech Inc.(NYSE:GNE). Genentech owns 20 percent of GenVec and issupporting research on gene therapy products for treatingcystic fibrosis.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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