A new method to detect colon cancer may be the first fruit of athree-way collaboration among Pharmagenics Inc., HoffmannLaRoche and cancer gene researchers at Johns HopkinsUniversity.

The Hopkins researchers reported last week in Science thatthey have identified in fecal samples the altered DNA that isassociated with half of colon cancers. The feat is remarkablegiven the vast amount of bacterial DNA that is found in thefeces, said Michael I. Sherman, president and CEO ofPharmagenics.

The Allendale, N.J., company has exclusive first rights to alltherapeutic applications, based on oligonucleotides, of the workof Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins.

Roche has exclusive first rights to all diagnostic approachesfrom Vogelstein's work, Sherman told BioWorld. Pharmagenicsand Roche will share exclusive rights to all other therapeuticsthat are not based on oligonucleotides, the small fragments ofgenetic material that are the focus of Pharmagenics'development programs.

The company is "very heavily involved in trying to come upwith therapeutic approaches" to cancer, based on Vogelstein'swork. The scientists identified the p53 tumor suppressor gene,the most common alteration in cancer yet discovered. Mutationor deletion of the p53 gene is associated with loss of tumorsuppression activity.

The ras mutation, which Vogelstein and colleagues havedetected in the fecal sample test, is present in only 50 percentof colon cancers. But based on this success, "there is no reasonwhy you can't look for (p53) in stool," Sherman said.

Pharmagenics, which began operations in 1990, raised $4million in initial capitalization and last November completed asecond round that raised gross proceeds of $16 million,Sherman told BioWorld.

The initial funding was through HealthCare Ventures II L.P.,and the second round was a private placement managed byPaineWebber.

Vogelstein serves as a consultant to Pharmagenics. Alan Cook,the company's director of chemistry, was director of coretechnology at Lifecodes Inc., and Arthur Bertelsen, director ofmolecular and cell biology, previously served in that position atUnigene Laboratories Inc.

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

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