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VASTox Inks Pilot Zebrafish Screening Agreements With Three Big Pharmas

UK chemical genomics firm Value Added Screening Technologies Oxford last week announced that it has entered into a series of pilot screening agreements with Merck KGaA, Servier, and Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development in Belgium.
The deals are worth more than €300,000 ($407,938) in 2007 service revenues to the company, which is known as VASTox.
The company, founded in 2004, will use its zebrafish screening platform to blind-screen various known compounds to validate its ability to predict adverse effects.
The agreements bring to seven the number of top-10 pharmaceutical companies with which VASTox works, among them Pfizer, Roche, and AstraZeneca, CEO Steven Lee told CBA News this week. He said the seven deals are expected to generate between £3 million and £4 million in revenue in the 2007/2008 fiscal year.
Lee said that VASTox is seeing a trajectory of exponential growth from pharma and biotech companies for zebrafish screening. For instance, in its 2004 fiscal year, the company pulled in £100,000 in revenue, while it made £500,000 the following year, and generated £1 million in its 2006/2007 fiscal year, which ended January 31.
“Based on our discussion with pharmaceutical companies, using the zebrafish as a model organism for drug toxicity assessments is becoming a major initiative,” said Eric Sandberg, a scientist with Zygogen, an Atlanta, Ga.-based zebrafish technology company.
“It’s a clearly emerging trend” because researchers can assess the effect of the drug in a whole organism, they are inexpensive, and their organ systems develop within five days of fertilization, Sandberg said. “They offer a higher throughput vertebrate model for toxicity assessment, so you get the advantage of physiological relevance.”
According to Sandberg, Zygogen is developing toxicity screening using the zebrafish in several areas of organ toxicity, including hepatotoxicity, cardiotoxicity, and neurotoxicity (see CBA News 6/8/07). 

“In terms of zebrafish screening, VASTox is seeing a trajectory of exponential growth from pharma and biotech companies.”

Zygogen’s Z-Tag technology expresses fluorescent reporters in specific organs, which enables researchers to rapidly assess organ health, he said.
Separately last week, VASTox said it has completed the construction of its GMP facility located at its subsidiary company, Dextra Laboratories, in Reading, UK (see CBA News, 3/23/07). The company said it will use the facility to scale up production of phase 2 materials.
VASTox has done synthesis and process scale-up for clients’ drug programs in which they have gone elsewhere for GMP. Lee said because of this the company thought it would make sense to build its own GMP facility.
VASTox said that it will perform a test run to produce material for one of its own drug discovery programs, and the facility will receive its first paying client by the end of this month.
“We would think that we would have several contracts by the end of the calendar year,” said Lee. “We have not built the facility speculatively.”

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