A new Colorado biotechnology company based upon thecommercial potential of "superantigen" research has savedseveral months in start-up time by moving into existinglaboratory space of the Colorado Bio/Medical Venture Center inLakewood, company directors said Friday.

The newly formed company, Supragen, was started with $1million initial funding from the venture capital firm E.M.Warburg, Pincus & Co., which also funded the Coloradocompanies Synergen Inc. and NeXagen. Supragen is subleasinga 5,000-square-foot building at the AMC Cancer ResearchCenter in Lakewood, near Denver, where Supragen's scientificconsultants work at the National Jewish Center of Immunologyand Respiratory Medicine.

The scientists, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchersPhilippa Marrack and John Kappler, and Brian Kotzin,discovered superantigens in 1989. These bacterial or viraltoxins can overstimulate the immune system, triggering oneout of every five T cells instead of the one in 1 million typicallystimulated through the major histocompatibility complex.

Supragen is licensing in six patent applications coveringdiscovery and use of superantigen processes. Incorporated lastsummer, the company completed its licensing agreement inDecember and plans to hire 20 people by the end of this yearto investigate the role of superantigens in the immune system'sresponse to infection and illness. The laboratory space is beingrenovated and should be complete by March, the company said.

Superantigens have been identified in food poisoning, toxicshock and rabies, and implicated by the National Jewish Centerteam in rheumatoid arthritis. They may also play a role inAIDS.

Some superantigens apparently turn off T cells, which invitesexamination of ways this mechanism might be used tomanipulate the T cell repertoire in patients.

The National Jewish Center scientists will share proceeds of thenew company with their laboratory, the research center andthe Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Supragen scientists hiredfrom outside will explore commercial possibilities of thediscoveries.

Supragen is the only company based on this research, JamesThomas, company vice president, told BioWorld. It is the firstcompany funded by E.M. Warburg, Pincus & Co. Inc. thatfocuses on the immune system. "We think the time is right inimmunology," a member of the firm said.

The Colorado Bio/Medical Venture Center is a new business"incubator" for biomedical and biotechnology companies,formed with seed money from the Colorado AdvancedTechnology Institute. A number of Colorado venture capitalfunds have established the Colorado Incubator Venture Fundcapitalized at $750,000 for investment in the venture center'stenant companies.

The non-profit venture center wants to incubate early-stagebiotech and biomedical companies drawn from regionalbusinesses and university and hospital faculties. It plans toprovide physical space, management assistance, access toresearch support and growth financing, President LewisKontnik said.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

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

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