University of Pittsburgh Medical Center acquires biotechnology firm Rheogene Inc.


Montgomery County-based business specializes in gene regulation products

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 17 – The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has acquired important gene regulation technology, thanks to a donation from specialty chemical company Rohm and Haas Co. The donation is the first of its kind for UPMC and includes intellectual property, equipment, compounds, biological materials, research and commercial agreements and licenses that have been consolidated into RheoGene Inc., a company based in suburban Philadelphia. The company formerly operated as RHeoGene LLC. Key business and technical personnel remain with the company at its Norristown, Pa. location.

RheoGene Inc. has developed technology to manage gene expression – a key component of gene-based therapies. The suburban Philadelphia-based company's gene regulation systems deliver precise control to develop new medical applications including cellular and gene therapies, genomics and enhanced protein expression. RheoGene's proprietary system uses a patented small-molecule mediator that can turn genes "on" or "off" as well as adjust the level of gene activity. In addition, the company is developing other pharmaceutical discovery agents used in research.

"The acquisition of the RheoGene technology furthers UPMC's commitment to be a guiding force in basic science research to improve health care and foster the growth of the biotechnology economy in the region," said Jeffrey Romoff, president of UPMC. "While it should represent a steadily increasing value to UPMC, we recognize that the real significance of this donation is the future benefit of its innovative clinical technologies to the people who matter most – the patients."

"We are excited to have UPMC as a strategic investor in RheoGene," said Tom Tillett, chief executive officer of RheoGene Inc. "This relationship will allow us to build upon the substantial investment Rohm and Haas has made in RheoGene's core technology that has allowed us to create a broad and deep intellectual property portfolio."

This unique strategic partnership between UPMC and RheoGene is a result of the collaborative efforts of Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell; Dennis Yablonsky, commonwealth Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and former CEO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG); U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania; the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative (PTEI); and the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

A DCED Opportunity Grant made it possible for UPMC to retain a number of key RheoGene employees during the acquisition transition and to retain high-tech jobs in Pennsylvania. The company plans to open a clinical laboratory in Pittsburgh during 2004 to facilitate collaborations with UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and the western Pennsylvania life-sciences community.

"RheoGene's technology and expertise has real strategic value for UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh and their investment in regenerative medicine research," said Alan J. Russell, Ph.D., director of the McGowan Institute and PTEI. "Technologies such as RheoGene's will be fundamental to realizing significant advances in areas such as personalized medicine where treatments will be individually tailored to provide each patient with the safest and most effective therapeutic options."

"UPMC is an ideal partner to foster the continued development of RheoGene's platform technology," said RheoGene CEO Tillett. "We now are well positioned to build on this work in wide-ranging applications such as pharmaceutical discovery, biotherapeutic protein production and agriculture, as well as to partner with UPMC and University of Pittsburgh researchers to further the development of therapeutic agents for patients."

RheoGene technologies have shown effectiveness in vitro and scientists are beginning the preclinical testing phase. Clinical trials in patients are still several years in the future, said Tillett.

"RheoGene's technology has important implications for advancing cell and gene therapies into the clinic," said Ronald B. Herberman, M.D., director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer Centers. "This technology has the potential to link the functions of genes, proteins and complex cellular targets to discovery and development of new therapies for many diseases, including cancer."

RheoGene's RheoSwitch™ inducible gene expression technology systems allow gene expression to be dialed up and down in a manner analogous to a rheostat control on a light switch. The system pairs the company's proprietary RheoChem™ small-molecule inducers with proprietary RheoCept™ receptor proteins to precisely regulate gene expression.

"We look forward to many synergistic associations with leading researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh that will provide the company with a robust product pipeline as we go forward," said Tillett.

RheoGene's board of directors is led by UPMC treasurer C. Talbot Heppenstall Jr. and includes Elizabeth Concordia, senior vice president of UPMC's academic and community hospitals division and president of UPMC's Presbyterian and Shadyside hospitals; David Kalson, esquire, director, business group, Cohen & Grigsby, PC; and RheoGene's Tillett. Dr. Russell is the board's liaison with its scientific advisory group. Other members of the scientific advisory group are being recruited.

RheoGene product details

  • RheoSwitch technology brings to the marketplace a new paradigm for the development of cell-based therapeutic products, in which any therapeutic gene can be delivered to and regulated for the patient. Therapeutic gene expression is most effectively managed by modifying the interaction between an inducer drug and its receptor, which regulates the timing and level of therapeutic administration to where it is needed in the body. RheoGene's proprietary RheoCept inducers are usable in ex vivo and in vivo contexts.
  • For RheoSwitch technology, RheoGene holds the exclusive license to Stanford University's Hogness patents for all fields of use outside plants. RheoGene's patent estate includes more than 40 issued or pending U.S. patents and applications and more than 175 foreign counterparts for composition of matter and use. These patents cover novel inducible gene expression systems, proprietary chemistries and multiple gene regulation systems for drug discovery, gene therapy, biotherapeutics production, agriculture and biosensors.
  • RheoGene's RheoPlex™ technology consists of multiple molecular switches that independently regulate spatial and temporal expression of more than one gene at a time in the same cell, or in different cell types in the same organism. This level of precise control more closely mimics the state of living systems and offers significant technical benefits since few biological or disease processes are regulated by a single gene. The system defines gene function, protein interactions and cell-signaling pathways, all of which can be applied to the discovery and development of new small molecule drugs, biological therapeutics, transgenic animal models of human diseases and cancer research.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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