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Cenix to Help AstraZeneca, CellCentric Discover, Validate RNAi-Based Drugs

Cenix BioScience this week announced that it has penned a deal with AstraZeneca for RNAi-based drug discovery and with CellCentric for RNAi-based target validation.
A Cenix official said both deals “are expected to be the first in a series of collaborations.”
Terms of the AstraZeneca deal call for Cenix to use its RNAi-based gene-silencing technology to perform phenotypic analyses of genes in cultured human cells to look for and validate undisclosed cancer targets provided by the British drug maker, according to Christophe Echeverri, the CEO/CSO of Cenix.
The companies will also use an assay strategy that they co-designed, said Echeverri. He declined to describe the strategy in detail.
In a statement, Cenix said it will use Definiens’ Cellenger image-analysis platform to provide datasets of cellular functions together with the phenotypes of certain genes. These data can be used to discover and prioritize targets for drug development, the company said.
According to Echeverri, AstraZeneca “has been looking for potential outsourcing partners for these kinds of projects for some time. They wanted to look for … partners specifically to combine high-throughput RNAi with high-content cell-based readouts.”

Both projects “are expected to be the first in a series of collaborations.”

He said that the two companies have been in discussions for such a deal over the past several years, culminating in 2007 when AstraZeneca came to Cenix with the current cancer deal.
Nick Keen, an AstraZeneca cancer researcher, told CBA News in an e-mail that AstraZeneca “continuously monitors emerging technologies and has identified large-scale RNAi screening as a technology that could help us identify new drug targets to address unmet medical needs.”
He said that privately held Cenix “provides … an integrated siRNA target-discovery platform covering the siRNA libraries themselves through to innovative high-throughput, high-content imaging based measures of the phenotypic consequences of target inhibition.”
Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
‘More and More Cell-Based Studies’
Terms of the CellCentric deal also calls for Cenix to combine its gene-silencing technology with high-content phenotypic analyses of genes in cultured human cells with the aim of validating in vitro several undisclosed cancer drug candidates, the companies said. Unlike the AstraZeneca agreement, the CellCentric deal does not include target discovery.
Dresden, Germany-based Cenix will also adapt microscopy-based assays that use Definiens’ Cellenger platform to discover cellular function and loss-of-function phenotypes of genes across multiple human cell lines.
“[CellCentric] actually contacted us late last year with a project concept in mind,” Echeverri said. ”The assays in this case would be largely designed by us.”
In an interview with CBA News, CellCentric CEO Will West said,“We have a number of contract research organizations that do our translational research for us and Cenix is one of those. [The company] has good skills in RNAi and morphometric analyses, and we have been very happy with the work that they are doing.”
Financial details of the agreements were not disclosed.
According to Echeverri, the AstraZeneca and CellCentric deals are “typical projects” for the shop, but he added that “more recently we have been doing more and more cell-based studies of mechanisms of action.”
“In terms of compounds under development, anywhere from lead optimization to clinical trials, we can apply RNAi-driven experiments to gain insights into pathways involved in both the therapeutic effects and also the unwanted adverse effects,” he said.
Echeverri said Cenix has done work in oncology, as well as metabolic, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases. “We would like to do more in the CNS area and we would also like to do more in immunology,” he added.
He added that Cenix would like to go beyond cell-based work and go into more RNAi-based in vivo target validation and help advance the preclinical development of siRNAs as lead molecules.

“The technology has been maturing quite well recently to enable this,” said Echeverri.

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