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Hybrigenics Signs Mindsense Biosystems and Merck to Protein Interaction Partnerships

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Hybrigenics has signed a research agreement with Mindsense Biosystems, marking the first partnership under which the Paris-based company will own rights to develop therapeutics from the resulting data, Hybrigenics said last week.

In addition, ProteoMonitor learned last week that Hybrigenics has embarked on its first big pharma partnership, signing Merck Sharp & Dohme, the European arm of Merck, to a pilot project to study how the company’s modified yeast two-hybrid technology applies to Merck’s interest in central nervous system diseases. The initial paid study should be complete within several months, said Donny Strosberg, CEO of Hybrigenics, but “it’s supposed to grow into a larger agreement.”

Under the partnership with Rehovot, Israel-based Mindsense, which Hybrigenics disclosed publicly last week, Hybrigenics will receive “several” biomarkers for bipolar disorder to use as starting points in an effort to map out the proteins involved in related pathways, said Nir Nimrodi, CEO of Mindsense. Hybrigenics will then use its version of the yeast two-hybrid technique to identify other interacting proteins, and attempt to validate the interactions using cell-based phenotypic assays.

“It’s actually the first time we’re leveraging the results we already have for an external collaboration,” said Nimrodi. “[Hybrigenics] will find for us what the functional companions of our proteins are. [With] the entire picture you know not only the names of specific proteins associated with depression, you learn more about the actual disease pathway. That could lead both companies not only to create more diagnostic candidate markers, but also drug targets,” he said.

Hybrigenics will own rights to develop therapeutics from the resulting collaboration, while Mindsense will own development rights to any additional biomarkers that Hybrigenics discovers, said Strosberg. Nimrodi was more circumspect, commenting that “we agreed on a mechanism which includes split licensing and cross-royalties, and eventually both parties will have to work with each other [to extract the greatest value from the discoveries].”

Nimrodi said he hoped the collaboration will produce new “partially” validated drug targets within six to nine months, which would allow the companies to then move into further validation and development of diagnostic or therapeutic products. “We’re not there yet, but we have certain expectations,” he said. Pierre Legrain, Hybrigenics’ vice president for science, added that he expected the first stage of the research to last about a year, and hoped the project would expand “as much as possible” beyond that.

Legrain declined to comment on the specific proteins Mindsense provided Hybrigenics, but said they are involved in the two or three pathways relevant to bipolar disorder, and that the two companies are interested in proteins differentially expressed in patients with the disease.

The two companies first began discussing working together almost a year ago, Nimrodi said, and negotiations gradually became more serious as Mindsense began to discover and validate its initial batch of biomarkers. “Unlike larger companies, we have to contemplate several steps ahead,” he said.

— JSM

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