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Novartis Accepts its First Delivery from GeneProt of Six Synthetic Proteins

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For the first time in their 14 month-old research partnership, Novartis has accepted six of GeneProt’s synthetic proteins for further drug development, the two companies said December 20.

The six proteins Novartis selected represent about half of the number of proteins GeneProt has presented to Novartis, said Cédric Loiret-Bernal, CEO of GeneProt. “We have more proteins but only six have been accepted,” he said.

Of the six, Novartis has already singled out three of the proteins with “promising” activity for preclinical evaluation. One of these is active in modulating the differentiation of cell types, and another is a tachykinin splice variant that has a specific role in the peripheral nervous system, Novartis has found.

The two companies did not disclose information on the other four proteins. Novartis retains rights to develop all six proteins into therapeutics, diagnostic markers, or drug targets.

Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis selected the proteins after a series of meetings between GeneProt and Novartis scientists to evaluate the potential utility of GeneProt’s proteins. At the meetings, which occur every six to eight weeks, GeneProt’s chief bioinformatician, Lydie Bougueleret, presents data on the company’s proteins and their predicted role in a given disease, said Loiret-Bernal.

“In what we call the joint scientific committee, we propose these proteins on a regular basis to Novartis, and based upon a joint agreement during these committees we decide whether we’re going to synthesize [the proteins and deliver] them to Novartis,” Loiret-Bernal said. GeneProt has licensed native chemical ligation technology from Gryphon Sciences to synthesize proteins with up to 200 amino acid residues.

Although GeneProt’s data show putative links between a protein and disease, Novartis performs all of the preclinical evaluation and toxicology studies on the proteins using disease models, Loiret-Bernal added. “We project some sort of activity and when they get really tested [they] can show something different. But at least our selection process has demonstrated that the proteins we’ve selected were active.”

Under the $84 million deal announced in October 2000, GeneProt is to identify potential therapeutic or marker proteins from the analysis of three twin proteomes. In return, GeneProt received a $43 million equity investment and $41 million in fees over four years.

GeneProt plans to announce publicly in January the results of calculations to determine the percent coverage of the proteomes they have studied, among other data, Loiret-Bernal said.

— JSM

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