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With New $24M NIEHS Contract, Paradigm Shifts to Toxicogenomics; Agilent to Benefit

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Marking a shift in its business strategy towards the area of toxicogenomics, Paradigm Genetics announced last week that it had won a five-year contract from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, worth up to $23.9 million, to produce gene expression data for a national reference database on the effects of chemicals on biological systems. The company will use Agilent Technologies’ microarray platform for the project. “This contract establishes our leadership in that area, and establishes us as a key player in that part of the market,” said John Hamer, Paradigm’s CSO.

Late last week, Paradigm also announced a shift in its corporate strategy. “We had traditionally been in the functional genomics area, and we primarily did our deals in the agricultural area,” explained Hamer.

“As part of our revision of our strategy, we have taken key technologies…and built that into an enabling solution for the safety, efficacy, and toxicity area.”

The company will continue to work with agricultural partners, he said, but will also aim to partner with pharmaceutical companies. Further on, Paradigm is hoping to patent biomarkers it finds and license them for specific therapeutic areas, he said.

In the NIEHS project, Paradigm will study gene expression in response to exposure to various chemicals in humans, mouse, rat, Drosophila, and possibly other model organisms.

While a yet-to-be named company will build the database, and other extramural laboratories will do some experiments, Paradigm will be performing all the microarray analyses, according to Hamer.

The database, he said, will be taken over by the NIEHS’ National Center for Toxicogenomics. Initially, Paradigm will test various known toxic compounds on human cell lines and use whole genome human arrays to study their response.

Agilent, which has been collaborating with Paradigm since October 2000 on various projects, including an Arabidopsis genome array the two companies launched earlier this year, expects to receive a considerable piece of the pie, amounting to several million dollars, in exchange for arrays, reagents, and instruments, said Wilson Woo, Agilent’s director of strategic programs in the bioresearch solutions department. “The revenue from this substantial contract of Paradigm is going to be significant to our business,” he said. But the project, he thinks, is also a strategically important area for Agilent: “It’s a key area where Agilent would like to participate, and we believe that the microarray technology is very suitable to apply in toxicogenomics.”

Paradigm approached Agilent last year, he said, and Agilent helped prepare the bid for the NIEHS contract. In addition to providing arrays, Agilent will also be involved in designing the probes, Woo added.

Both companies describe their relationship as extremely fruitful.

—JK

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