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After Buying Protana, Transition Therapeutics Drops Biomarker Unit, Keeps Optimol Tech


Since acquiring Protana in November 2005, Transition Therapeutics has been using the company's Optimol technology to identify small molecules that have affinities to selected protein targets, including targets related to hypertension, anemia, and Alzheimer's disease, according to a person familiar with the developments. Protana's proteomics-based biomarker discovery business, in the meantime, has been abandoned.

Transition has brought on board around 16 people who used to work in Protana's Optimol team to play a role in its drug-discovery group, a Transition official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told ProteoMonitor recently. Meantime, Protana's biomarker discovery group (see ProteoMonitor 3/25/2006), was shuttered because the proteomics program "wasn't consistent with the company's current strategy," the official said.

"Transition's business model is focused on drug development, with the Optimol group providing a unique platform to replenish our pipeline with pre-clinical candidates," this official said. "This [Optimol] drug-screening system is tremendously robust. Uniting this drug-discovery platform with our broad drug-development capabilities strengthens our company's overall competitive position in the pharmaceutical industry."

The Optimol technology, which is covered by 13 patents, identifies small molecules with affinities to a protein target and ranks them by their affinities to that target.

"Products inhibiting these drug targets have the potential to provide significant benefit over currently marketed multi-billion-dollar therapeutics."

"It uses competitive binding to identify the level at which small molecules bind," the Transition official said. "It's a very elegant system, very efficient and accurate."

Transition uses the Optimol technology to help it identify lead compounds to five protein targets that it considers "the most sought-after drug targets in clinical development today": renin, a precursor to angiotensin, which is a protein involved in hypertension; cholesterol ester transfer, a protein that works with statins to raise so-called "good" cholesterol; hypoxia inducible factor prolyl hydroxylase, a protein involved in anemia; and beta secretase and amyloid beta peptide, two proteins involved in Alzheimer's disease.

"Products inhibiting these drug targets have the potential to provide significant benefit over currently marketed multi-billion-dollar therapeutics," Transition stated in a press release in November 2005.

Transition is also focusing on developing a pipeline of lead compounds that were acquired from Protana. The lead candidates include selective estrogen receptor modulators, which are the leading marketed products for osteoporosis and breast cancer treatment, and EphB2 kinase inhibitors, which have the potential to treat gliomas, a form a brain cancer.

Transition acquired Protana's assets, including its Optimol business proteomics division, in exchange for 2 million Transition common shares, $3 million in cash, and the assumption of approximately $3.5 million in debt, which were secured by acquired equipment.

Since Protana's proteomics services business was "not consistent with Transition's corporate strategy," Transition planned to sell the tangible assets associated with the proteomics business, the company said at the time. The company also said that proceeds received from the sale of any of the proteomic services assets would be shared equally with a group of Protana creditors.

It is not clear if Transition has sold assets associated with Protana's proteomics business.

Optimol technology was originally developed by an early-stage drug development company called OptiMol. The company was 50 percent owned by MDS Proteomics until July 2004, when MDS Proteomics merged its operations with OptiMol, and at the same time reorganized and changed its name to Protana to "reflect the fact that the reorganized company will have a much broader focus than proteomics based discovery research" (see ProteoMonitor 8/6/2004).

Transition Therapeutics is based in Toronto, Canada.

— Tien-Shun Lee ([email protected])

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