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Biogen Plans To Form Bioinformatics Department, Collaborate with CuraGen

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--BioInform has learned that Biogen here is in the process of organizing a new bioinformatics department under Joseph Rosa, director of research. A spokeswoman for the biopharmaceutical company declined to provide any details about the new department, such as its expected staffing or budget.

She also would not say whether the plans are related to a newly announced collaboration with the genomics company CuraGen. In that deal, CuraGen, based in New Haven, Conn., has signed an agreement to provide its bioinformatics operating system and proprietary genomics platform, as well as access to its subscription databases, to Biogen to aid in the drug discovery process for a range of disease programs. In exchange, under terms of the agreement, Biogen will buy $5 million of CuraGen stock at its pending initial public offering and provide a $10 million loan option that, at any time Curagen chooses, can be converted into Curagen stock at market price.

In addition, Biogen will provide payments over the next five years to support the joint research and gain nonexclusive access to CuraGen's GeneCalling gene expression analysis and discovery platform, as well as to its PathCalling system, which discovers the role of genes and the proteins they encode in biological pathways. These tools will be used to generate databases from disease systems specified by Biogen, and the company will also gain access to CuraGen's subscription GeneCalling and PathCalling databases. Biogen will provide milestone payments of up to $18.5 million for each drug developed under an exclusive license, and will pay royalties on future product sales. After the exclusivity period elapses, rights to genes not licensed to Biogen, plus rights to the data, will revert to CuraGen for inclusion in its databases.

Biogen will use CuraGen's proprietary systems, including GeneScape, its web-based bioinformatics operating system that provides project management, data analysis, and visualization functions, to help identify novel therapeutic proteins and disease targets, and to analyze current drugs, according to a Biogen spokeswoman. "We believe they have outstanding proprietary technology," she elaborated.

David Wurzer, CuraGen's chief financial officer, declined to discuss the deal beyond referencing a press release the company issued, because the genomics firm filed with the Securities and Exchange Comm ission to go public on October 16. The company is limiting comment during the registration period.

Biogen is best known for its multiple sclerosis therapy. It opened in 1978 and has 900 employees. Established in 1993, CuraGen is focused on developing and applying genomics technologies, processes, and information systems to the drug discovery and development and pharmacogenomic processes. The company employs 150 people at its three facilities: the headquarters in New Haven and additional research operations in Branford, Conn., and Alachua, Fla. Among other funding sources, the company has received grants from the Advanced Technology Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Institutes of Health.

--Joe D'Allegro

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