The little engine that could

Compugen’s recent GPCR deal with Merck is helping it to reach “critical mass” in being a discovery and diagnostics leader.

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TEL AVIV, Israel—In its first-ever collaboration with Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based  Merck & Co., Compugen Ltd. is, as of mid-January, engaged in work with Merck targeted at predicting peptides likely to activate selected G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and validating their agonistic activity. It is also the first-ever GPCR collaboration that Compugen—which has several predictive biology and computational discovery engines in other fields—has signed."We are very pleased that our first collaboration based on this capability is with Merck, one of the world's leading research-based pharmaceutical companies," said Alex Kotzer, president and CEO of Compugen, in a news release about the deal. Although financial details are still under wraps, the companies have noted that the agreement includes an option to Merck for exclusive worldwide licenses for such peptides—on a peptide by peptide basis—covering the development and commercialization of therapeutic products. "Those peptides not selected by Merck will remain Compugen property and we expect that we will have agreements with other pharma companies for future use of this engine," says Martin Gerstel, chairman of Compugen. "In addition, in our earlier validation run, we predicted and selected a number of interesting GPCR-related peptide ligands, some of which are now moving forward at Compugen with in-vitro and in-vivo validation studies. At some point in the future, we may choose to license some of these candidates."GPCRs are membrane protein receptors involved in signal transduction of numerous physiologic processes, and   are the largest family of known drug targets. There are approximately 370 GPCRs relevant for drug discovery and development and at least 40 percent of drugs in the market are thought to act on GPCRs. Compugen has identified eight novel peptides that activate GPCRs."At this early stage in our commercialization efforts, signing collaborations should encourage other companies to consider our capabilities," Gerstel predicts. "This is the remaining key hurdle for us, since this field is littered with unmet expectations from others. We now have the proof that we can deliver, but our potential customers must be willing to take the time to evaluate us."He says regardless of how many collaborators and partners come along, Compugen intends to remain a discovery company, "and hopefully within a short period of time have many tens, if not hundreds, of our product candidates moving forward, under milestone and royalty bearing agreements, with many of the leading drug and diagnostic companies.""Our competitive advantage is in discovery, and due to the constantly improving aspect of our core predictive biology capabilities, we believe that this advantage should increase with time," he adds. DDNeditconnect: e020806 

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