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Variagenics Close to Closing Big Pharma Collaboration; Promises Colon Cancer Diagnostics by End 02

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 9 - Variagenics is in late-stage negotiations with at least one major pharmaceutical company to strike a pharmacogenomics-based research collaboration, the company's president and CEO said here on Wednesday.


Speaking to attendees of the 20th annual JPMorgan H&Q Healthcare Conference, Taylor Crouch said that Variagenics also expects to finalize an agreement with a diagnostics company this year that will invest in its colon cancer program and help distribute the resulting products when they're complete.


Through this program, the Cambridge, Mass.-based pharmacogenomics firm hopes to develop at least six products this year based on markers linked to colon cancer. These products would, for example, be used to predict the efficacy or toxicity of a certain therapeutic in a particular patient with the disease.


It won't be Variagenics' first foray into the colon-cancer-diagnostics orbit: Late last month the company launched a pharmacogenomics-based R&D collaboration with the Korean biotechnology company GeneMatrix.


As GenomeWeb reported, the partnership was designed to develop new molecular diagnostic to predict drug response in colon and gastric cancers.


Under that agreement, GeneMatrix will have access to SNPs and haplotypes identified by Variagenics, and will also purchase a Variagenics genotyping and haplotyping platform it will use in clinical trials.


In return, Variagenics will get access to GeneMatrix' colon and gastric cancer data from Asian populations, and plans to make an equity investment in the company.


Financial details were not disclosed, though both firms anticipate that diagnostic products emerging from this collaboration will be marketable worldwide.


Back at H&Q, Crouch closed his 30-minute slot by saying that Variagenics has roughly $80 million in the bank that fuels a $5 million to $6 million quarterly burn rate. The company expects to carry that rate through 2002, he added.

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