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Sanofi invests in genomic technology firm

French pharma firm contributes to $125m fund for Warp Drive Bio

Sanofi has joined a $125m investment consortium in a US biotechnology company called Warp Drive Bio that focuses on the use of genomic technologies to discover natural-source drugs.

Warp Drive Bio has developed a drug discovery platform which makes use of a genomic search engine to identify natural products that are 'hidden' in microorganisms, based on their genomic signatures.

The platform relies on gene sequencing, bioinformatics and chemo-informatics to identify the substances.

"Revolutionary advances in microbial genomics have provided the blueprints for nature's factories that assemble natural products, and have revealed vast treasure troves of novel natural product drugs hidden within microbes," said Gregory Verdine, a Harvard University scientist who co-founded Warp Drive Bio.

"Prior to Warp Drive Bio, no one had created a comprehensive discovery engine that selectively mines from nature those products with transformative pharmaceutical potential," he added.

Earlier efforts to identify substances contained in the genomes of microorganisms have yielded some successes.

In 2010 for example, scientists at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands said they had identified a new antibiotic from Streoptomyces coelicolor using a genomic mining technique that involved removing a restrictor molecule that activated a hitherto inactive gene cluster.

Verdine believes Warp Drive Bio's approach to genome mining in microorganisms will "discover powerful next-generation drugs that target the central circuitry of human cells in completely new ways".

Sanofi is investing in the two-year-old biotech, alongside venture capital firms Third Rock Ventures and Greylock Partners, over a five-year period. The $125m combined investment programme includes around $75m in equity, it said.

In addition to funding, Sanofi is providing its strains library and natural product expertise to the start-up, in return for "certain access rights to Warp Drive Bio's technology and products, on a worldwide basis".

The US start-up says the deal with Sanofi will help it move to a proof-of-concept stage, while also allowing it to secure additional partnerships and collaborations.

12th January 2012

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