Sibia Inc. on Monday said it has signed a three-yearcollaborative research agreement with Eli Lilly and Co. todevelop drug discovery technology and drugs for centralnervous system diseases.

As part of the deal, Lilly made a $4 million equity investmentin the privately held La Jolla, Calif., company.

The collaboration will develop assays that will enable thecompanies to test a variety of molecules that might interactwith calcium channels. The drug discovery efforts will targetneurodegenerative disorders, in particular Alzheimer's disease.

The collaboration will focus on calcium channel types found innerve cells in the brain. The channels are pores located on thesurface of nerve cells that control the entry of calcium ions intothe cells. They play an important role in the transmission ofsignals between nerve cells and are thought to play a majorrole in several nervous system diseases.

Lilly will provide research support to Sibia for development ofthe assay and make undisclosed milestone payments. Eachcompany will conduct independent drug discovery. Lilly willhave exclusive rights to any drugs it develops and will payroyalties on sales to Sibia. Lilly also has a right to license drugsdiscovered by Sibia. Other terms weren't disclosed.

Other companies working on calcium channel blockers includeNeurex Corp. and Cambridge Neuroscience Inc. Neurex isdeveloping peptide-based neuronal calcium channel blockers totreat disorders and diseases of the brain and central nervoussystem. Neurex has filed for an initial public offering of 3.5million shares at $7 to $9.

Cambridge Neuroscience (NASDAQ:CNSI) has received a smallbusiness innovation research grant to identify calcium channelblockers that work selectively in nerve tissue. The company islooking for blockers that could ameliorate brain damage causedby loss of blood supply to the brain.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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