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BioSeek Inks Compound Study Deal With Pharma UCB; Looks to Find More Long-Term Agreements

BioSeek this week said it will apply its BioMAP system to compounds developed by Belgian pharmaceutical shop UCB across a number of different target classes.
The system generates a compound profile that will tell UCB how to prioritize those compounds for in vivo studies, BioSeek CEO Michael Venuti told CBA News this week.
The UCB project involves “screening some specific compounds that [UCB] has for additional activities,” said Venuti. “It’s sort of the first step with [UCB], and [BioSeek] has a number of ongoing projects at this stage, including one with Merck.”
Venuti did not provide a timeline for the BioSeek/UCB project.
According to Venuti, BioSeek has also worked on similar projects over the years with Pfizer, Merck, and GlaxoSmithKline. He declined to elaborate on those studies, but said that the idea is to convert such short-term projects into more long-term agreements.
MAP of the Future
The BioMAP platform comprises a variety of assays and detection methods such as quantum dots, ELISA, and chimeric fluorescent proteins, Ellen Berg, CSO of BioSeek, said at last month’s SBS stem cell symposium in Anaheim, Calif.
The company uses these methods in combination with panels from different human primary cell types in various environments that are intended to mimic an entire disease system, Berg told CBA News following the conference.
BioSeek has so far developed, optimized, and fully automated more than 20 BioMAP systems that include combinations of primary human macrophages, primary endothelial cells, Th2-type T cells, bronchial epithelial cells, mast cells, smooth muscle cells, fibroblasts, and keratinocytes, representing "disease-specific biology relevant to asthma, allergy, COPD, skin inflammation/psoriasis, arthritis, and fibrosis," according to the company's website.
BioSeek is constantly looking to expand the kinds of cell types it uses in its BioMAP systems, Berg said. “The more challenging cell types to include would be pancreatic beta cells, neurons from the CNS, and some of the renal cell types,” she said.
Berg said that BioSeek has a number of other cell types in development including bone, skeletal muscle, and hepatocytes, and is slowly expanding the panel of assays to include those cell types and indications such as metabolism and hepatocyte responses
Under New Management
Venuti joined BioSeek as CEO in November, succeeding Peter Staple, who remains with the company as a board member and investor (see CBA News, 11/16/07).  
“On the BioMAP assay side, I’d like to see two to three long-term deals with pharmaceutical companies,” said Venuti. “Up until now, we’ve been kind of doing one-off contract work.”

“[BioSeek] is looking to convert such projects from short-term contract work into more long-term agreements.”

He explained that he’d like to see BioSeek reach agreements with pharmaceutical companies whereby they commit to use BioSeek’s services for work on multiple projects.
In terms of drug discovery, if BioSeek winds up owning molecules that it can advance in preclinical studies, such molecules will be licensing candidates that could represent a source of revenue for the company, Venuti said.
BioSeek is planning what Venuti calls a “move up” in space. “The BioMAP is very scalable, so if BioSeek lands long-term deals with pharmaceutical companies, [it] will be able to increase [its] capacity proportionately,” he added.
Friends in High Places
Amylin Pharmaceuticals made a $10 million equity investment in BioSeek in May (see CBA News, 5/25/07). At the time, Michael Hanley, vice president of discovery research for Amylin, told CBA News that his company would like to help BioSeek evolve from a fee-for-service shop into a drug-discovery company.
Terms of the alliance called for BioSeek to use the BioMAP system to evaluate the potential of Amylin’s polypeptide hormone library Phormol to yield peptide therapeutics for inflammatory diseases.
BioSeek will pay Amylin royalties and milestones in exchange for the right to select and exclusively license two resulting peptides that it would then optimize and develop for therapeutic indications outside of Amylin’s core focus.
Then-CEO Staple said that although BioSeek had signed similar agreements in the past, the Amylin alliance was the first to include a capital investment.
Staple said the company would likely use the $10 million infusion to identify and put in place new product-development programs, and intends to raise additional financing when it identifies such programs.  
It was also the first deal for BioSeek where the company actually owns molecules, Venuti said.
“If the peptides that [BioSeek] selects and has the rights to are developable, then [BioSeek] will have ownership of molecules in the marketplace and … can freely license them,” said Venuti.
The screening for the Amylin project “is pretty much done,” according to Venuti. It will, however, take some time to determine if any compounds are worth developing.
BioSeek “will have to take a molecule essentially from a hit in an assay through pharmacological assessment to really understand its mechanism of action,” he explained.
The Amylin library is a highly evolved source of compounds because the company has synthesized its contents to be stable and bioactive based on Amylin’s predictive algorithms, which it invested heavily in to create molecules like Byetta, said Venuti.
If the compounds resulting from the Amylin deal are of a high-enough quality to go directly into preclinical studies, then BioSeek may be able to bring something into pre-IND studies in 2008, Venuti said. However, if more lead optimization and more chemical synthesis are necessary, then the company will need at least another year.

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