Chiron Corp. has published a robotic method to make peptidesand then automatically screen them for potential therapeuticactivity.

The Emeryville, Calif., company's aim is to "build a substantialin-house library of small molecules," said Walter Moos, vicepresident of chemical therapeutics.

The robotic approach provides "the chemist's alternative tophage" generation of peptide libraries, said company scientistRon Zuckermann, who co-authored the report on the method inthe May 15 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Chiron method is essentially "an automated algorithm togenerate (chemical) diversity cheaply," Zuckermann toldBioWorld.

Other companies, including Affymax N.V. (NASDAQ:AFMXF), arescreening for drug candidates using peptides linked to theirencoding genes, spliced into plasmids. A similar technique usespeptides linked to phages (viruses). Advantages of the Chironmethod are that it can use amino acids that do not occur innature and it can craft compounds using non-peptide bonds.

Chiron (NASDAQ:CHIR) will be seeking collaborativearrangements as well as its own development leads. Chiron hasalready concluded a three-year collaboration with Warner-Lambert to develop compounds targeting the receptor fornerve growth factor, and "we found two or three which theyare now taking into preclinical studies," said spokesman LarryKurtz.

Potential therapeutic targets for the screen, Moos said, includeanalogs of endothelin, the most potent known constrictor ofblood vessels. Mediators of blood vessel growth and of tumorspread may be derived through the receptor for fibroblastgrowth factor.

-- Roberta Friedman, Ph.D. Special to BioWorld

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