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ExonHit, BioMerieux Kill Colon Cancer Program, Continue to Develop Prostate Cancer Dxs

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By Justin Petrone

ExonHit Therapeutics and BioMérieux this week said they will discontinue co-developing biomarkers related to colon cancer, but will continue to develop markers for prostate cancer.

The French firms said they made the declision to end the colon cancer partnership after reviewing data generated to date. Loïc Maurel, president of the management board of ExonHit, said in a statement that although ExonHit was "able to produce a robust and reproducible test," the "final results from the colon cancer program did not reach the level of performance we were aiming to achieve."

The firm had envisioned the test, referred to as EHT Dx12 internally, as having the "potential to become an alternative to colonoscopy."

Meantime, ExonHit still believes that its prostate cancer test, referred to as EHT Dx13, has the "potential to become the first blood-based diagnostic test with significantly increased accuracy," compared to prostate specific antigen tests.

Paris-based ExonHit and Marcy-l'Étoile-based BioMérieux launched a partnership in October 2005 to co-develop microarray-based test kits that screen for a variety of cancer markers in blood.
The alliance, which was amended in January 2008, combines ExonHit's gene expression-analysis expertise and IP with BioMérieux’s in vitro diagnostics know-how. The agreement grants ExonHit the right to market the test kits to pharmaceutical companies or to hospitals, which would use them to recruit patients for clinical studies.

ExonHit and BioMérieux began working on the colon cancer assay in 2005 and added prostate cancer in 2007. At that time, the companies said the purpose of the prostate cancer work was to "create DNA biochips that will allow screening for the presence of cancer markers from blood samples." They added that arrays are "perfectly adapted tools" to "enable the characterization of multigenic pathologies such as cancers."

Besides colon cancer and prostate cancer, ExonHit and BioMérieux have worked together to develop a breast cancer diagnostic. They last provided an update on their breast cancer program in April 2007. Last year, though, ExonHit licensed separate breast cancer assays from the Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris.

The first of these assays is a tissue-based test and is to be used following a mammography in association with fine-needle aspiration. The second is a blood-based test and could become an alternative to mammography. Matthew Pando, executive vice president of therapeutics for the company, told BioArray News last month that ExonHit plans to launch the first assay for research purposes in the third quarter (see BAN 2/16/2010).

The future of ExonHit's breast cancer collaboration with BioMérieux is unclear. An e-mail seeking comment from ExonHit was not returned in time for this publication. The companies did not discuss the program in their most recent press release.

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of BioMérieux, said in a statement that biomarker discovery continues to be a "strategic focus of innovation research" for his firm, but said that it is a "challenging scientific, medical, and business endeavor."

ExonHit and BioMérieux have both separately inked deals with Affymetrix that allow them to develop tests on the Affy GeneChip platform. ExonHit is a certified Affy service provider and sells Affy-manufactured, whole-genome SpliceArrays for research, and has separate array-based diagnostic programs ongoing, including one for Alzheimer's disease. The company expects to the Alzheimer's test, called AclarusDx Alzheimer's,in Europe by year end.

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