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Merck and Norak Biosciences, Odyssey Thera; Evotec OAI and Altana Pharma; and Lynx Therapeutics


Merck Extends Transfluor License with Norak Biosciences …

Norak Biosciences, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said last week the Merck has signed a second license agreement to use Norak’s Transfluor technology for GPCR (G-protein coupled receptor) drug discovery.

Under the terms of the agreement, Merck will gain full access to the Transfluor technology to screen GPCR targets at its facilities. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed. The deal follows one in 2002 that granted Merck limited access to Transfluor, with Norak providing cell line development, Norak said.

“[The original] was a restricted agreement to specify a number of receptors that [Merck] wanted to screen with Transfluor, and as part of that, we provided the assay development support for those receptors, and then transferred the cell lines to Merck, who screened them internally,” Terry Willard, executive vice president of Norak, told Inside Bioassays last week.

“The difference in this agreement is that for the defined purposes, they have unrestricted access to the technology worldwide for the life of the patent,” he added.

Willard also said that the move represents the “natural progression of access to the technology” that occurs when Norak sells Transfluor as a drug-discovery tool to other companies, while maintaining its own internal drug-discovery efforts.

“First and foremost, our charter is to be a drug discovery company in our own right,” Willard said. “In the first instance, our collaborators were interested in keeping us involved in the application of our technology, and we were happy to do that early on. But now we share a lot of the same resources … and they’re starting to now encroach on our ability to progress our own pipeline. So we’re happy now to actually have our partners take that over, now that they’ve got some experience — of course, with our continued support,” he said.

… and Expands Drug Discovery Pact with Odyssey Thera

Odyssey Thera announced last week the expansion of an agreement with Merck to use Odyssey’s cell-based assay technology to screen “the full spectrum of activity” of selected Merck compounds.

The goal of the agreement, Odyssey said, is to characterize the on-pathway and off-pathway effects of compounds early in the drug discovery process. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

This marks the fifth original agreement or extension of an agreement that the San Ramon, Calif.-based drug-discovery firm has made with a major pharmaceutical company in the last year. In April, Odyssey announced that it had signed an agreement with F. Hoffman-La Roche to profile certain of its compounds with Odyssey’s cell-based assays, and in November 2003, it signed a similar agreement with Pfizer. The remaining two agreements are undisclosed. (For more, see Inside Bioassays, 4/20/2004).

Odyssey’s main drug-discovery technology is the PCA (protein-fragment complementation analysis) assay, a technique developed by Stephen Michnick of the University of Montreal. In a PCA assay, fragments of a reporter protein, such as a fluorescent protein, are separately expressed with proteins that are known to interact. If the known protein interaction is part of a disease pathway, then the reporter protein allows researchers to tell if a particular compound is having an effect on that pathway.

Evotec OAI to Conduct Kinase Screening for Altana Pharma

Evotec OAI said last week that it has signed an agreement with Altana Pharma to advance the discovery of one of Altana’s kinase targets.

Under the terms of the agreement, Evotec will develop a kinase assay, and use it to screen Evotec’s compound library using Evoscreen, the company’s high-throughput screening technology. Evotec said that it will characterize any hits generated, and further optimize the hits in terms of potency, selectivity, ADME/Tox, and pharmacokinetic profile to identify lead clinical compounds.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Lynx to Study Gene Expression in ATCC Stem Cells

Lynx Therapeutics announced last week that it has entered into a service agreement with American Type Culture Collection to study gene expression in certified human embryonic stem cells.

Under the terms of the agreement, Lynx will receive payments for genomics discovery services using its MPSS (Massively Parallel Signature Sequencing) analysis of gene expression. ATCC is conducting the study to identify universal sets of genes, the expression of which would indicate specific cell states, Lynx said.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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