Founded on Baylor College of Medicine patent applications andfueled by $8.5 million in financing led by venture capitalistDavid Blech, GeneMedicine Inc. is banking on a new genetransfer approach.

The Houston company intends to treat general medical needs,such as muscle wasting in cancer, AIDS and heart disease, byinjecting therapeutic genes in synthetic vectors targeted tospecific tissues, co-founder Fred Ledley, a physician on facultyat Baylor, told BioWorld.

Ledley is also vice president for clinical research anddevelopment at GeneMedicine, which was formed a year agoand began business in December 1992 with $1 million fromDavid Blech & Co.

Backers of this first major round of financing, announcedTuesday, also include Abingworth, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield &Byers, New Enterprise Associates, Schroder Ventures, VenturesMedical, SED Ventures, Community Technology Fund and J.F.Shea Company, said Mark Gessler, corporate developmentdirector.

Baylor has an undisclosed equity stake in the company, whichis roughly the 15th venture spun off through the medicalschool's technology transfer arm, BCM Technologies.

GeneMedicine obtained worldwide rights to recent patentapplications and certain rights to future inventions from thelaboratories of its five founders, who include cell biologistsRobert Schwartz, Dennis Roop, Bert O'Malley and Savio Woo,director of Baylor's Center for Gene Therapy.

Woo's comparison of DNA vectors and work toward creatingsynthetic vectors based on prime functions of their naturalcounterparts is a "piller" of the company's strategy, Ledley said.This tailored approach should avoid any concerns about causingdisease with the natural viral vectors.

Overall, the company's technology is based on work by morethan 20 scientists and represents the largest technologytransfer made by Baylor to a single company.

GeneMedicine also hopes to engineer a switch for therapeuticgenes in which, for instance, the gene "drug" might be turnedon by oral compounds, such as an extremely low dose of asteroid antagonist whose safety has been well characterized incancer patients.

"We want the proteins expressed at the right level, at the righttime, in the right cell," Ledley said about this control strategy.

Proteins whose genes the company might deliver includeinsulin-like growth factor-1, growth hormone, antisense RNA,ribozymes and antigens.

Besides muscle wasting, a second initial target isneurodegenerative disease. Also being explored are potentialtreatments for metabolic, blood, skin and cardiovasculardisorders.

The medical faculty founders hired Eric Tomlinson, formerpresident and chief executive officer of Somatix Corp. aspresident and chief executive officer. A former pharmacologyprofessor who headed Ciba-Giegy Pharmaceuticals' institute foradvanced drug delivery research, Tomlinson was an earlyproponent of using genes as drugs. He left Somatix shortly aftersheparding the company through a merger with Hana BiologicsInc., Ledley said.

Tomlinson was on the road with investors of the overscribedoffering and not available for comment.

The company is leasing a former research facility of the TexasChildren's Hospital and intends to begin producing products foranimal studies, Ledley said, explaining, "We're an early-stagecompany, but not an early-stage technology."

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

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

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