California biotechnology firm BioSeek this week said it will profile certain respiratory compounds developed by Canadian drugmaker Inflazyme Pharmaceuticals.
The deal provides BioSeek with an endorsement of its human primary cell-based systems biology approach to drug discovery and additional cash for continued support of its own drug-discovery programs — which in turn could be licensed to outside developers.
Under the terms of the agreement, BioSeek will use its BioMAP Systems technology to characterize the molecular mechanisms of action of Inflazyme's leukocyte selective anti-inflammatory drugs (LSAIDs), which comprise the company's respiratory therapeutics program. The companies did not disclose financial details.
Julie Rezler, senior director of corporate development for Inflazyme, this week told CBA News that the agreement isn't so much a drug-discovery collaboration because Inflazyme has already identified anti-inflammatory compounds that work in biochemical and animal models. Instead, the drugmaker hopes BioSeek will help it understand exactly how the candidates work.
"Our earlier results in both in vivo and in vitro systems have indicated that the mechanism of action of our LSAIDs lies within the interactions of leukocytes and other cell types such as endothelial or epithelial cells," Rezler said. "We believe that BioSeek's comprehensive database of profiles in their BioMAP system offers the greatest opportunity [to] identify [on which] particular signaling pathways … our LSAIDs are exerting their effect."
"We're using our technology to generate leads in our internal discovery program in part because our partners have told us that they were interested in seeing those leads."
The BioMAP platform is a variety of assays and detection methods such as ELISA, chimeric fluorescent proteins, and quantum dots, used in combination with "panels" of different human primary cell types in various environments that are intended to mimic an entire disease system.
BioSeek has thus far developed, optimized, and fully automated 15 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.
"In our systems for evaluating compounds, we use human primary cells," BioSeek CEO Peter Staple told CBA News this week. "We have, on an experimental basis and for particular applications, created similar models with animal cells. But it's important that we use primary cells rather than cell lines, because we want cells that capture the regulatory mechanisms of the cells in the body."
Rezler said that the reason Inflazyme chose to work with BioSeek is that "it offers a unique system which employs functional readouts in mixed cell culture assays. This allows a more systems biology approach to examining not only the pathways involved within a single cell type but also the crosstalk [that] happens between cells within the more complex system expected to be in effect within a whole organism."
Nurturing Internal Discovery
According to Staple, BioSeek will use proceeds from the Inflazyme collaboration to continue to fund its own internal drug-discovery program, which focuses on inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
Staple said the company is "not in the mode of investing in clinical trials at this point, but sees it as a possibility in the future." For the time being, BioSeek will focus primarily on partnering deals, he added.
"We're using our technology to generate leads in our internal discovery program in part because our partners have told us that they were interested in seeing those leads," Staple said. "The plan is, at least in many cases, to incorporate some of these into our partnering discussions, so we can offer not just the ability to evaluate partners' compounds, but the ability to also provide our partners access to compounds we've identified."
Such a strategy could ensure that a pharmaceutical company with more resources than BioSeek would take a BioSeek compound into clinical trials. More importantly, for the time being, the lead compounds could help showcase the BioMAP platform.
"We see it now as providing assets both that we can pursue internally at the right time and that we can use in our partnering discussions," Staple said. "When we're talking about using BioMAP for discovery, it's very helpful to show a partner what we've been able to do with our internal efforts."
At any rate, investors continue to buy into the BioMAP technology. Staple told CBA News that BioSeek raised approximately $4.6 million in venture capital cash last year in an unannounced financing round, adding to the approximately $14.4 million the company had raised in 2002 and 2003. The company also was awarded a two-year, $770,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2003, although that funding ended last month.
"We have recently been very focused on generating revenues, and our need for cash has been fairly modest," Staple said.
As in its internal discovery program, a large majority of BioSeek's contract research work focuses on inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
According to CEO Staple, several pharmaceutical and drug-discovery companies have tapped BioSeek for contract research work, but the company has only been able to disclose three: Boston Scientific (see CBA News, 5/19/2006), Dynavax (3/8/2005), and now Inflazyme. Staple said that the company would likely be able to disclose another collaborator in the coming weeks.
Boston Scientific has been tight-lipped about its agreement, only saying in a statement that BioSeek would be profiling compounds for potential applications in new products. However, Boston Scientific's primary therapeutic focus is the development of cardiac medical devices. Dynavax is also working with BioSeek to characterize the activity of a family of TNF-α inhibitors called thiazolopyrimidines, which the company is developing for treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.
One of the major reasons BioSeek's technology platform is so conducive to inflammation-related drug discovery is that the very nature of inflammation is highly complex, involving multiple cell lines and signaling pathways. Staple also said he believes this single indication may open the door to a wider field of disease states.
"Inflammation was a starting point for us because it was an area we identified where modeling the complexity of disease is important. It was an area where we thought we could get a near-term benefit from providing a more complex model of the disease that reflected human biology."
Staple said that BioSeek intends to expand on its inflammation-based discovery program both internally and in its partnerships.
"It's important to note that inflammation isn't just a disease area — it's a process that's involved in a number of other disease areas, such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, et cetera," Staple said. "So it's a window into a large number of therapeutic areas for us. It's a starting point and a clear strength, but it's not a limitation."
— Ben Butkus ([email protected])