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Here They Come to Save the Day

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Ingenium Pharmaceuticals in Martinsried, Germany has its sights set on becoming the Mighty Mouse of deductive genomics. If successful, the company may knock out rivals such as Lexicon Genetics and DeltaGen along the way.

Michael Nehls, a pioneer in genetic engineering, left his position as vice president for genomics at Lexicon to become Ingenium’s CEO last year. The company, which was spun out from Germany’s human genome program in 1998, takes an approach that is a split from tradition: Ingenium plans to use deductive genomics instead of inductive genomics — working from phenotype to gene rather than gene to phenotype.

In fact Ingenium’s is a classical approach, but applied on an industrial scale. Nehls uses chemicals to induce “accelerated mutagenesis,” causing point mutations in mice. His team then employs standard clinical techniques to screen the new mice for signs of human disease. The most interesting mice are then singled out for further analysis. Eventually the genetic source of the altered phenotype is determined.

The company is able to create and analyze over 50,000 recessive mutations per year, and thereby produce thousands of mice with single-point mutations that have novel medically relevant phenotypes. Some of those phenotypes will be related to human disease. The company is creating a database of these genetic mutations and will make that information available to drug development collaborators.

According to Nehls, Ingenium’s “primary product is not the mutated mice, per se. We are more interested in offering the biological, i.e. gene function, information.” But Nehls adds, “We could always give our customers the mouse models for further study.”

Lexicon is currently capable of generating about 500 new knockout mice per year; DeltaGen can produce 250.

—Christopher Maggos

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