Sphinx Pharmaceuticals Corp. has formed a joint venture withICAgen Inc. to treat diseases influenced by the way ions crosscell membranes.

Calcium channel blockers are already used to treathypertension and angina. Other disabling or life-threateningconditions that might be conducive to ion-channel therapiesinclude multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer, osteoporosis andviral infections.

ICAgen (Ion Channel Advances), based in North Carolina andformed in 1992, is based on proprietary ion channel assays.

Sphinx (NASDAQ:SPHX) of Durham, N.C., is bringing to the jointventure a molecular diversity program it acquired with itstakeover of Genesis Pharmaceuticals Inc. This so-called "doublecombinatorial diversity generation" allows the creation of largenumbers of small molecules that may be useful to controlenzymes that are regulated by fatty compounds called lipidsthat reside in cell membranes.

Through controlling these enzymes, the compounds may beable to alter the way cells respond to external conditions,affecting cells' "signal transduction," whereby exposure to amolecule on the outside cell membrane triggers a responsewithin the cell via another molecule.

This process affects how cells channel ions such as calcium inand out, which influence homeostasis and other aspects ofphysiology.

Sphinx is exploring using this small molecule discovery systemto develop treatments for cancer, cardiovascular diseases,psoriasis and arthritis.

Under the agreement announced Tuesday, the companies willshare revenues, expenses and profits equally, and a researchcommittee of scientists from both companies will directdevelopment of the compounds. ICAgen will receive anexclusive license to screen and test the compounds provided bySphinx for all ion channel targets. Also, Sphinx has made anundisclosed equity investment in ICAgen and will makeadditional equity investments.

"By combining our proprietary ion channel screening systemswith Sphinx's molecular diversity program, we hope to identifyand develop new therapeutics that target select ion channels totreat disease," said P. Kay Wagoner, ICAgen's president.

Sphinx's stock was up 25 cents a share on Tuesday, closing at$4.75.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

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