Beckman Coulter said last week that it has taken an option to license from Johns Hopkins University intellectual property surrounding breast and colon cancer genes, the first fruits of a relationship begun in the early 2000s when JHU tapped Beckman subsidiary Agencourt Bioscience to provide the school’s Kimmel Cancer Center with sequencing services.
In addition, Beckman and JHU may continue to reap benefits from the relationship for the foreseeable future, as Beckman said it has also taken an option to license genes uncovered by JHU researchers in future studies on six additional undisclosed cancers.
Under the terms of the first agreement, Beckman will have the exclusive option to license from JHU 200 genes associated with breast and colon cancer for diagnostic applications on a new instrumentation platform it still has under development. JHU and Beckman scientists discovered as part of a collaborative study published last year in Science.
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The Genomic Services division of Beckman subsidiary Agencourt performed the sequencing for the study published in Science under an ongoing fee-for-service agreement established between Agencourt and JHU in 2002. Beckman acquired Agencourt Bioscience in 2005.
“We have had a [longtime] relationship with Hopkins,” Erick Suh, director of genomic services at Agencourt, told BTW sister publication In Sequence last week. “They started to use some of our … PCR purification reagents [as early as 2002]. At that time, they were issuing a lot of papers using the [serial analysis of gene expression] technique for determining expression patterns, et cetera.” The serial analysis of gene expression, or SAGE, technique was developed by JHU researcher Victor Velculescu.
“When we started to offer our sequencing services that was a perfect opportunity for us to learn those methods and to get into that community,” Suh added.
Eventually, Suh said, Agencourt’s scientists, as well as the JHU researchers with whom Agencourt was partnering, became more involved in SNP resequencing for mutation discovery – and Agencourt has since been providing its resequencing services to JHU for that purpose on a fee-for-service basis.
“Finally we decided to set more of a formal arrangement such that we will have some licensing rights in return for the sequencing,” Suh said.
Beckman scientists are currently evaluating data from the study, Luthy said. “If analysis of the data shows that there might be a diagnostic application, then we would pay to license that,” she said.
According to Mary Luthy, director of corporate communications at Beckman, the genes could eventually have application in diagnostic tests for a new Beckman instrumentation platform.
“Our plans for these licensing agreements [with JHU] are that if we come up with diagnostic applications, they would become tests that we would run on our molecular diagnostic instrument.”
“Right now we are developing a molecular diagnostic instrument that will rely on nucleic acid separation types of technologies,” Luthy told BTW. “This analyzer will use some of the Agencourt reagents for the nucleic acid purification and separation. So our plans for these licensing agreements [with JHU] are that if we come up with diagnostic applications, they would become tests that we would run on our molecular diagnostic instrument.”
Beckman has said that it plans to launch the new platform, called the UniCel DxN, in 2010.
Under the second agreement announced last week, Beckman also has an option to exclusively license genomic IP from studies on six additional cancers that are either ongoing or being planned at JHU’s Kimmel Cancer Center. The agreement also covers sequencing services, Beckman said in a statement, meaning that Agencourt Genomics Services will continue to provide sequencing of samples provided to it by JHU.
It is unclear whether the relationship may now have shifted to one where Agencourt provides its services in exchange for Beckman’s option to license JHU discoveries based on the sequencing data. Lynn Doucette-Stamm, VP of business development at Agencourt, told In Sequence that up until the agreements announced last week, the relationship had been only on a fee-for-service basis, but declined to elaborate.
A JHU spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing work between JHU and Beckman’s Agencourt group, citing confidentiality agreements between the two entities.
Although Beckman hopes to license further discoveries from JHU related to the cancer studies, Luthy said that it is still too early to say whether a licensing agreement will be negotiated because of the early nature of the research.
“It’s a little too early to say that there is anything, actually,” Luthy said. “What we’re looking at is the option to license what we hope are discoveries.”