Gene Logic, Hopkins seek mental illness link Object is genes found in cases of depression and schizophrenia

April 02, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

Gene Logic Inc., a Columbia-based genomics company, and the Johns Hopkins University said yesterday that they will collaborate on research aimed at discovering the genes associated with schizophrenia and depression.

The deal, said one expert, places year-old Gene Logic in one of the hottest fields of current research on depression and schizophrenia, disorders which affect millions in the United States alone.

The ultimate goal of the partnership: license out the discoveries to major pharmaceutical houses interested in developing new drugs to treat the disorders.

The market for such new drugs could be huge. For example, Eli Lilly & Co. reported sales in 1996 of $2.36 billion for Prozac, the leading drug prescribed for depression.

And Lilly's Zyprexia, one of a new class of drugs being marketed for schizophrenia, had 1996 sales of $87 million.

About 18 million people in the United States suffer from depression, while about 1 million suffer from schizophrenia.

Financial terms of the agreement between the privately held company and university were not disclosed.

But Mark D. Gessler, Gene Logic's senior vice president for corporate development and chief financial officer, said the company retains all rights to the gene discoveries.

Under the collaboration, Dr. Robert Yolken, a Johns Hopkins professor of pediatrics and director of the Stanley Laboratory for the Study of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder at Hopkins, will provide Gene Logic with access to a library of brain tissue samples obtained after death from people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression. Yolken will also advise the company on its research.

Gene Logic will compare the tissue samples with those of people not diagnosed with one of the disorders, using a technology that can determine all the genes that show up in a tissue sample.

Genes, which are composed of proteins, are thought to regulate many of the body's mechanisms, such as fighting diseases.

The company, Gessler said, will search "for those genes consistently expressed" in the tissue samples from people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression.

"In effect we are running a big magnet over a haystack looking for the peaks that consistently are associated with disease," Gessler said.

The company hopes to narrow the field of the estimated 15,000 genes which show up in each tissue sample to between 50 and 500 which may be associated with depression and schizophrenia, and then to license out the most likely "gene targets" to major drug companies for further study.

"We are looking for new pathways drug companies could use to develop treatments for depression and schizophrenia," Gessler said.

The venture capital-backed company, he said, also may attempt to develop potential drug compounds from its findings and license those as well to pharmaceutical companies for development and commercialization.

Anne Brown, director of communications for the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, a Great Neck, N.Y.-based group which funds research, said a growing number of researchers are seeking genetic links to depression and schizophrenia.

Most of the research is being conducted by university researchers, not at drug or biotechnology companies, she said.

Researchers, Brown said, are fairly confident there is more than one gene associated with depression and perhaps an entire group associated with schizophrenia.

She said new drugs are needed for the disorders, particularly for schizophrenia and the form of severe depression called manic depression.

Meanwhile, she said, 80 percent of people treated for depression respond well to currently available medicines, the most prescribed of which are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which affect a mood-regulating neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the brain.

Gessler said Gene Logic hopes to discover a number of possible gene targets associated with depression and schizophrenia within the next 18 months.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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