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Syrrx Takes On Pharmacia, Hopes to Build Chemistry Group and Move Downstream

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Even as Syrrx positions its protein crystallography platform as a means of achieving its own aspirations for drug discovery, the San Diego-based company said last week that it had locked in Pharmacia to a multi-year research collaboration aimed at helping the pharmaceutical giant identify protein drug targets.

Closing the deal should be seen as a validation of Syrrx’s technology, said Nathaniel David, Syrrx’ director of business development. The agreement includes a technology access fee, a potential equity investment in Syrrx, R&D funding, and success payments from Pharmacia, although David declined to offer more specific financial details.

“This is a big one,” David said of the deal. “We couldn’t announce how big it is but suffice to say it’ll actually be huge. We’re going to be doing a huge portion of Pharmacia’s de novo structure work to support all their lead discovery.”

“This is the largest structural proteomics deal in the space,” he added. “We’re happy to have that.”

Syrrx is also contemplating whether to deploy its “factory process” for structure determination within Pharmacia, including the robotics required for combinatorially testing the conditions that may allow a specific protein to form a crystal robust enough to study using synchrotron x-ray crystallography.

But in addition to its deals with Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Celera Genomics, and now Pharmacia, Syrrx is also hiring chemists to support its internal drug discovery program. Although the company currently has only four chemists on its payroll, Syrrx will have room for about four times that many when it opens new lab space in April. By the end of the year, Syrrx plans to employ “a few dozen,” and David said that number would rise to 50 by the middle of 2003.

The company was also recently awarded a patent on its automated protein crystallization technology, David said, which will allow Syrrx to claim as proprietary any method for crystallizing proteins that uses a volume of dissolved protein from 1 to 1000 nanoliters. The company has yet to publicly announce that it has been awarded the patent.

When asked whether such a claim would stand up under challenge, David said the key issue is how Syrrx tactically deals with the companies who are potentially infringing its patent. “If you just [made] a blanket statement that no one is allowed [to use that size volume] it wouldn’t work,” he said. “We’re working on an enforcement and licensing strategy.”

The patent will also allow Syrrx to monitor what protein crystallization technology other companies are making available to customers, he said, because “we’re the only company that can make available the robots to enable this.”

David would not comment on the company’s plans for an initial public offering. Syrrx has $100 million in cash, he said, enough to sustain the company through 2005 given current revenue estimates.

— JSM

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