Seeking to capitalize on leading-edge discoveries in geneticsand automated genomic technologies, genome scientists DanielCohen, Eric Lander and Stephen Reeders have garnered $8.45million in seed financing from the Mayfield Fund and otherventure capital investors to form Millennium Inc.

Located in Cambridge, Mass., the company intends to apply itsfounders' collective expertise to develop targeted therapeuticsfor polygenic diseases, with an initial focus on obesity, kidneydisease and immunological disorders.

Millennium's other investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield &Byers; Greylock Management Corp.; Venrock Associates;Sofinnova Inc.; CW Ventures; and PaineWebber.

"We've been working on the idea of bringing together varioustechnologies in genomics for a couple of years," explained MarkLevin, acting chief executive officer of Millennium. Levin, apartner in the Mayfield Fund, just last week stepped downfrom his temporary post as president and CEO at Focal Inc. ofCambridge, another Mayfield Fund start-up.

One of Millennium's core technologies allows the direct isolationof disease genes via a new mapping methodology invented byStanford University's Patrick Brown. This new technique,termed genomic mismatch screening (GMS), allows researchersto perform genetic linkage analyses without resorting toconventional polymorphic markers or gel electrophoresis.

It is designed to map all the regions of genetic identitybetween two related individuals using only genomic DNAsamples from those two people. The technique alleviates theoverwhelming and tedious task usually applied for geneticlinkage mapping, which entails extensive analysis of a largenumber of polymorphic DNA markers from a large populationof individuals.

To map the genes responsible for complex traits such asobesity, hypertension and diabetes, the number of markers andthe number of individuals needed escalates. Stanford's Brownand his colleagues have accelerated the process. Millenniumhas an exclusive license from Stanford on the GMS technology.

Millennium's technology also includes proprietary systems forthe large-scale isolation of complementary DNAs withcharacteristics appropriate to particular disease physiologies, aswell as resources to elucidate gene function and design disease-specific therapeutics.

The company is also isolating and studying mouse genes thatcause conditions used as models for human disease. "We'reusing the mouse system to look at monogenic traits, and thehuman pedigrees to look at polygenic traits," explained Levin.

Millennium intends to "build up a core genomics facility:sequencing, GMS, mouse genetics, bioinformatics," Levin said."We all believe the technology has come to the point in the lastfew years based on large-scale sequencing capabilities andbioinformatics that we can identify disease-causing genes andthen develop therapeutics for them," Levin told BioWorld.

For instance, Reeders, one of the company's founders and itsvice president of genomics, will continue his clinically orientedresearch on polycystic kidney disease. "He's narrowed thatdown to a region of 20-30 genes," Levin said. Reeders is anassociate professor at Yale University School of Medicine andassociate investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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