Sibia Inc. announced Wednesday a three-year collaborationwith Ciba-Geigy Ltd. to develop potential central nervoussystem drugs from cloned human excitatory amino acid (EAA)receptors.

The Swiss drug giant made a $2.5 million equity investment inprivately held Sibia of La Jolla, Calif. A second investment inSibia of equal size is expected within 18 months. Sibiadeclined to disclose Ciba's equity stake, except to say that itwas less than 5 percent.

Primary targets of the Ciba-Sibia collaboration are drugs totreat such diseases as stroke, epilepsy and Alzheimer's.

The two companies aim to combine Ciba's work in EAAreceptors with Sibia's proprietary advanced receptortechnology (ART), a research tool that Sibia says shows how areceptor functions in a living cell. Most assays measure areceptor's binding affinity to a target cells, but fail to capturehow the receptors interact with the cell, said Ulrich Merten,Sibia's vice president of planning and administration.

Excitatory amino acids (EAAs) function both as building blocksin the synthesis of peptides and proteins, and as intercellularneurotransmitters, similar to serotonin and dopamine.Overactivation of the neurotransmitter system has been shownin animal studies to play a role in such diseases as epilepsyand stroke, Sibia said.

"They are leaders in the EAA field," said William T. Comer,Sibia's president and chief executive officer. "Ciba has alreadygenerated some highly interesting compounds."

Ciba already has several EAA compounds in or about to enter,clinical trials, according to Dietrich W. Scholer, who heads theCNS and cardiovascular disease research at Ciba's Baselfacilities. The clinical status of the compounds was notdisclosed.

"Ciba wants to increase its use of molecular biological toolsfor drug discovery," Scholer said. Other companies working inEAA receptors include Eli Lilly, Glaxo, Marion Merrell Dow,Merck, Roche and Sandoz.

Under the agreement, both companies will be able to drawequally upon the technology developed in the collaboration todevelop drug products, said Sibia's Merten.

Besides the equity investment, Sibia said it is to receive fromCiba an undisclosed amount of research funding over threeyears and a royalty on Ciba products resulting from thecollaboration.

Sibia has a related collaboration with the not-for-profit SalkInstitute for Biological Studies, also in La Jolla, whoseMolecular Neurobiology Laboratory first cloned an EAAreceptor in 1989. Sibia, a partial acronym for the SalkInstitute was formed in 1981 as a commercial developmentarm of the institute.

Sibia last May announced a three-year collaboration with EliLilly to apply its receptor technology to develop calciumblockers. The company is also investigating nicotinicacetylcholine receptors for which it has no collaborativepartner.

-- Ray Potter Senior Editor

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