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With Four Small Acquisitions in Six Months, DNAPrint Sets Sights on Drugs, PGx, Nasdaq

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After four acquisitions, tiny DNAPrint feels like it's ready to get pharmacogenomic.

The company has spent the last several years on the over-the-counter bulletin boarde, and it has been trying to build its name and finances through DNA-based diagnostic services that predict ethnicity. But with the addition of four companies in the past six months, especially the purchases of Kenna Technologies and Ellipsis Biotherapeutics, the company aims to begin producing drugs and diagnostics, Hector Gomez, the company's chairman and chief medical officer, told Pharmacogenomics Reporter. The addition of Ellipsis is the last acquisition DNAPrint plans on, he said.

"We now have to get this company out of penny stocks — it was the only way for us to raise money, basically," said Gomez.

"This has been the plan that we designed about two or three years ago, but we didn't have the resources," said Gomez. "So now, to do the development of the diagnostic tests … we created a division, which is called DNAPrint Pharmaceuticals, which at this time is owned by the company, but the plan is to raise money only for this biotechnology part, and hopefully take it to an IPO in the near future."

DNAPrint is also working on two pharmacogenomic diagnostics — one to identify patients at risk of adverse reactions to statins, such as Lipitor and Zocor, and another to predict adverse reactions to the chemotherapy carboplatin.

None of the companies that 25-person DNAPrint has bought are giants themselves. Based on DNAPrint's share price when each of the transactions were announced, last week's acquisition of Ellipsis was valued at approximately $112,000; the late-October acquisition of Kenna was valued at about $15,000; the July purchase of an 18-percent share of Germany-based Biofrontera cost DNAPrint about $1.8 million; and the June acquisition of Trace Genetics was valued at about $25,000 plus options.

The computational biology provided by Kenna, along with Ellipsis' SNP-genotyping capabilities, which include Beckman Coulter's SNPstream and an Illumina Beadstation, should help DNAPrint develop drugs quickly and cheaply, Gomez said. "We are ready to put two or three [drugs] in clinical trials as soon as we raise the next round of financing," he said. DNAPrint's aim is to obtain financing in the first quarter for second-quarter drug trials, he added.

But DNAPrint hasn't embraced pharmacogenomics to the extent that it has abandoned consumer genetic testing. The other two acquisitions, Trace Genomics and Biofrontera, provide space, personnel, and equipment to serve DNAPrint's consumer ancestry and forensics division, Gomez said.

The first drug project that the fledgling pharma wants to tackle is a series of erythropoietin-analog drugs that it licensed from Harvard Medical School. "We will use the SNP capabilities to determine which are the patients to enroll in clinical trials, and who are the patients [who] we should not treat with these drugs because they will have side effects," Gomez said.

The company is still collecting information about SNPs associated with erythropoietin, which include hypertension, thrombosis, and pure red-cell aplasia. "Basically, in all the cases there is a significant genetic component — it could be small, it could be large, we don't know — our experience is limited to eight marketed [EPO] drugs," said Gomez.

The firm hopes to secure an initial investment of $30 million to support its EPO drug development, as well as the development of methylphenidate for drug addiction and depression indications. Methylphenidate, when manufactured by Novartis, is also known as Ritalin.

— Chris Womack ([email protected])

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