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Functional Genomics Eyeing Healthcare, Paradigm Is More Than Plants

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For anyone who remembers Paradigm Genetics for its coolers upon coolers of plants, it’s time for a refresher course. Since the company’s start in ag genomics, Paradigm has made a serious push into healthcare and drug development as well.

That push comes largely in the form of one man: Tom Colatsky, VP of healthcare research, who joined the company in August 2002. Colatsky spent most of his career at what is now Wyeth Research working especially with cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. He was also chief scientific officer of Physiome Sciences and has started his own peptide chemistry company.

Colatsky says Paradigm hasn’t strayed from its, er, roots. “It hasn’t so much shifted as grown,” he says. “We’re still very committed to the ag bio research that’s going on here.”

But somewhere along the way, it occurred to the Paradigm crew that the functional genomics techniques they were honing for use in plants could also be directed to healthcare work. “What we’ve done on the healthcare side is applied it toward biomarkers and target discovery,” says Colatsky, 54. Biomarkers could later be used for drugs or as diagnostics, making them a potentially safer bet than the drug-only compounds big pharma tends to gamble on.

Because much of Paradigm’s work involves understanding metabolic pathways, Colatsky says, the early focus is on metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity. Thanks to a contract with NIEHS, Paradigm is also studying toxicology and drug safety, particularly with liver toxicity. “The idea is to evolve gradually,” he says.

Starting out, Colatsky has relied on partnerships to help get Paradigm’s momentum going. The company has research relationships with Duke University and the University of North Carolina’s hospital at Chapel Hill, in addition to a strategic alliance with another company, Tissue Informatics, to study liver injury. “A number of others are in the works,” Colatsky says. (That alliance has since morphed into a planned acquisition of Tissue Informatics.)

Partnerships will also be key once Paradigm homes in on a target or biomarker of particular interest. “As you know, developing a drug on your own is a very expensive proposition,” Colatsky says. That’s why he sees Paradigm’s options as partnering or colicensing during the development phase, or going after a biomarker with a much smaller, better-defined patient population that the company could handle by itself. “You collect all the information that you need so you can target your drug to particular patient populations,” he says. “To do all this work up front gives you a lot more [confidence].”

— Meredith Salisbury

 

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