RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.—In late March, biotechnology company Icoria announced it had reached an agreement to sell its agricultural genomic assets to multinational agriculture giant Monsanto. The deal is expected to allow Icoria to focus its R&D efforts on an aggressive program to discover and validate targets and potential therapeutics for the treatment of metabolic disorders such as diabetes, obesity, and liver damage.
"We chose to focus our resources on an area experiencing true growth rather than one dominated by only a few players," explains Dr. Thomas Colatsky, vice president of healthcare research for Icoria. "The decision to divest our ag-bio assets was made easier because of the significant opportunity for profitable growth in human healthcare that is based on market size, growing market demand for biomarkers and diagnostics, and the vast unmet medical needs that exist in our therapeutic area focus.
"Over the past several years, we have been prudently shifting our business model to adapt to a changing marketplace," he adds. "This is evident by the number of human healthcare research projects we have undertaken, as well as the TissueInformatics acquisition completed last year."
The sale to Monsanto is expected create a net benefit of nearly $15 million. "Icoria continues to generate significant revenues from healthcare-related activities, including government contracts (NIEHS, $32.2 million over 5 yrs) and a major ATP grant from NIST ($11.7 million over 5 years)," Dr. Colatsky says. "Last year, we were awarded two fast-track SBIR grants for our work in biomarker discovery for liver disease. These grants and revenues help to offset some of the costs associated with transforming Icoria into a company focused on diagnostics and targeted therapeutics."
Icoria will continue to pursue transcript profiling service contracts using product combinations like Agilent Oligo Micro-arrays with its proprietary MirChip technology, and Affymetrix Genechips with its Paradigm Array Labs process, but it also intends to move more heavily into drug development.
To accomplish this goal, Icoria will work to develop safer and more effective drugs more cheaply and at lower risk by following a biomarker-enabled process that will allow the company to monitor drug action, predict patient response, and monitor disease progression.
"The prevalence of diabetes and obesity are reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. and other industrialized nations," explains Dr. Colatsky. "It has been estimated that by 2010, 10 percent of the US population will be diagnosed as diabetic. New therapies have not impacted these areas to the extent needed. Both areas remain under-treated and under-diagnosed by existing products. In the area of liver injury, current markers are relatively insensitive and non-specific indicators of the underlying disease and possible clinical outcomes."
He adds that there is a natural affinity between Icoria's platforms and these indications. Much of the company's early research and platform development focused on the liver as a target organ; a "metabolic factory" containing over 80 percent of the biochemical pathways and reaction mechanisms.