Autogen files new US patents

By Melissa Trudinger
Monday, 25 February, 2002

Australian genomics company Autogen has filed US patent applications for five new genes related to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The genes were discovered using Autogen's Israeli sand rat animal model and the company's proprietary eXpress technology platform for gene discovery. Autogen has filed patent applications for 41 new genes involved in obesity and diabetes since the beginning of the discovery program.

"The new applications have confirmed and strengthened our position as a world leader in this area of research," said Prof Greg Collier, Autogen's chief operating officer.

"To have close to 50 genes under patent protection puts us in a tremendously strong position to move forward in this area. We expect to be filing more patents this year."

All 41 genes could be considered potential drug targets, he said, as they were "the pick of the crop."

German company Merch-Lipha, a 15 per cent shareholder, is also a collaborator with Autogen on the project and has committed at least $25 million to the program.

Several important genes associated with obesity and diabetes have already been identified, including the Beacon gene, which has a role in regulating food intake and body weight, and the Tanis gene, which is implicated in the body's response to fasting and in the regulation of glucose.

Both genes were originally discovered in the Israeli sand rat animal model and subsequently identified in humans.

Autogen uses the Israeli sand rat as an animal model for the discovery of genes involved in obesity and diabetes because the disorder develops in the animal in a similar fashion to its development in humans. High-throughput differential gene expression technology is used to identify potential genes of interest. Once the gene has been identified, a number of approaches can be used to determine the function of the gene, and therapeutic targets can be identified.

Autogen also has access to several unique collections of human DNA, through a collaboration with the International Diabetes Institute. These collections come from several human populations, including Tasmania, Tonga and Mauritius. The DNA libraries are screened to identify the human equivalents to the rat genes.

The populations are considered to be ideal for genetic screening, due to their diversity and access to family history and genealogical data.

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