Mayfield Fund was to announce today formation of a newbiopharmaceutical company, Tularik Inc., to develop drugsbased on transcription factors.

First-round financing of $3.8 million includes a minorityinvestment by Genentech Inc. (NYSE:GNE), which maycollaborate with the new company's programs and is expectedto provide research materials.

Transcription factors are proteins that exist in the cell nucleus.By binding in various combinations to sites on the genes, theyregulate the expression of genes into ribonucleic acid, whichthen serves as the template for protein production.

Tularik will focus first on viral diseases, said Mark Levin,Mayfield general partner, who will serve as Tularik's chiefexecutive officer. "Viruses have their own distinct transcriptionfactors, and a lot more work has been done on viraltranscription factors than on human ones," he said.

The company doesn't plan to work on HIV, where there isalready a great deal of competition, Levin said. Other areas thecompany will investigate are cardiovascular and inflammatorydiseases and cancer.

The company hasn't identified any lead compounds or filed forany patents.

The scientific founders are David Goeddel, Ph.D., Genentech'sdirector of molecular biology; Steve McKnight of the CarnegieInstitute and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator;and Robert Tjian of the department of molecular and cellbiology at the University of California, Berkeley, who is also aHoward Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a member ofthe National Academy of Sciences.

Tjian and McKnight have been working on transcription factorsfor the past decade, said Levin. "Our knowledge is now at thepoint where we can think of interfering with the process."

The company will operate independently of Genentech,although the companies may be involved in various researchcollaborations, and the South San Francisco, Calif., company willsupply research materials to Tularik.

Nevertheless, said Levin, "the relationship, particularly Dr.Goeddel's close affiliation, gives them a liaison, a window on thetechnology, and ultimately an opportunity for commercialdevelopment."

Levin said Tularik, which also will be located south of SanFrancisco, is the only company focused exclusively ontranscription factors, though interest in the area may begrowing. Earlier this month, Oncogene Science Inc.(NASDAQ:ONCS) and American Home Products Corp. announceda four-year agreement to jointly develop gene transcription-based drugs in the areas of diabetes, immune systemmodulators, asthma and osteoporosis.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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