Celera to invest in Japanese firm

Rockville company hopes to get assistance with its DNA database

March 22, 2001|By Julie Bell | Julie Bell,SUN STAFF

Celera Genomics Group said yesterday that it will acquire a stake in HuBit Genomix Inc., a young Japanese company dedicated to identifying genetic variations associated with disease.

Financial terms of the investment were not disclosed. Celera will have a stake of a little less than a third in HuBit, making it the second-largest shareholder in the company formed about a year ago.

Rockville-based Celera already claims the world's largest database of genetic variations among individuals; it has more than 4 million. Scientists believe such individual variations could be the foundation for identifying people predisposed to certain illnesses. The data also could be useful in determining whether some people would be helped by certain medications, while others would find the same drugs toxic.

But Celera's database of single nucleotide polymorphisms, as the DNA variations are known, is raw at this point, and the company has been on the lookout for deals that can help it make use of this and other data. HuBit, a tiny company with ties to the CSK Group of companies - including game company Sega Corp., CSK Corp. and Shinsei Bank Ltd. - may be able to help.

"They're largely focused on health-related issues important in Japan," Celera spokesman Paul Gilman said, adding that HuBit is building a database of genetic variations among Japanese people.

For example, he said, HuBit may work with institutions or companies testing experimental drugs in humans, looking for ways in which genetic variations might be implicated in the illnesses. It also may look for ways in which such variations might impact the performance of the drug being tested.

HuBit said the information it discovers could be useful in developing therapeutics and diagnostics. It plans to provide the information to pharmaceutical, biotechnology and research centers in Japan and elsewhere.

At a media briefing yesterday in Tokyo, the companies gave few details of how they may work together. When asked whether Celera plans to obtain the Japanese people's genetic variations discovered by HuBit for its business, Celera President J. Craig Venter said the agreement is "primarily financial." He said details will be determined later.

In a statement, Venter said the investment "should allow HuBit to expand its research and development in analyzing genetic variation, potentially involving Celera as a business and scientific partner in these important areas."

HuBit, a private company, was founded in April 2000 as Medical Genome Systems Inc. It raised money from Tokyo-based CSK Venture Capital, which is 80 percent owned by CSK Group companies, according to its Web site.

Shares of Celera, a genomic information company that is a unit of Applera Corp. in Norwalk, Conn., closed yesterday at $29.32, down $1.98, or 6.3 percent.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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