Iterex Pharmaceuticals announced Tuesday that it has closed adeal with Miles Inc. to collaborate on drug discovery using thestart-up company's proprietary peptide screening, which cansignificantly cut the time needed to discover active peptides.

Terms of the agreement and diseases to be targeted were notdisclosed.

Iterex technology creates mixtures of peptides that aresystematically varied at each amino acid position along thesequence. The mixtures are then tested in established assays todetect desired activities.

For example, a hexapeptide -- a string of six amino acids -- has64 million different sequence possibilities; 20 amino acids arepossible for each of the six positions. Iterex's technologycreates mixtures of all hexamers with the amino acid alanine atthe first position, all that have alanine at the second positionand so forth.

Each mixture is assayed for activity. The third amino acid mayhave to be methionine to get any activity, and then the searchnarrows to all possible hexamers with a methionine in thethree position.

In a paper published last week in Nature, Richard Houghten,Iterex's chief executive officer, and his associates at the non-profit Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in San Diegodemonstrated the technique's ability. The scientists were ableto define the area within an antigen recognized by amonoclonal antibody. The result obtained with the technologycorresponded with the known antigenic determinant.

The Nature report also showed which hexamers would havebroad anti-microbial action, with 17 of the final 20hexapeptides so identified having stronger action than thenaturally occurring anti-microbial peptide, magainin.

Houghten, who developed the technology and founded thecompany in 1990, as well as the Torrey Pines Institute andMultiple Peptide Systems, said that the technique can be usedeven if no prior structural knowledge exists to guide thesearch. The company said 100 million peptides can be screenedin less than six months with its approach.

The company has already identified lead candidates forinfections caused by herpes, Staph. aureus, E. coli, Candida, HIVand for gum disease.

The technology to produce large quantities of peptides quickly,which was commercialized by Multiple Peptide Systems, ispatented, and patent applications have been filed to cover therest of the process, as well as the active sequences alreadyidentified.

San Diego-based Iterex plans to retain the topical antibiotic andanti-inflammatory markets, but seeks partners outside thesefields. The deal with Miles is the first step in corroborating thetechnology and generating a near-term cash flow. The companyalso has "half-a-dozen partnerships in the handshake phase,"Houghten told BioWorld.

Iterex has received $2 million in seed capital from a limitedpartnership of investors through the Perkins Company.Additional funding will be sought in 1991-92.

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

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