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Intrexon buys majority stake in RheoGene
BLACKSBURG, Va.—Biotechnology company Intrexon Corp. and Norristown, Pa.-based RheoGene, Inc., a gene and cell therapy company recently announced plans to merge. The combined company will be named Intrexon Corp. and be headquartered in Blacksburg with supporting facilities in Norristown. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), which acquired RheoGene in 2003, will retain a significant ownership stake and a seat on the board of the merged company. Financial terms were not disclosed by the privately held companies.
"Intrexon's and RheoGene's technologies are very complementary," says Intrexon CEO Robert Beech. "The safest and most effective gene-based therapies will require highly optimized gene programs that can be tightly regulated as to their on/off state, levels of expression and genomic positioning."
The combination of Intrexon and RheoGene creates an advanced research and development biotechnology enterprise whose goal is to establish a leading position in gene-based therapeutics.
"Our modular UltraVector system enables rapid combinatorial optimization of complex gene programs. The RheoGene technologies deliver tight gene regulation and controlled genomic positioning. The integration of those complementary capabilities, across the R&D spectrum from discovery to the clinic, will enable significant advances in gene-based medicine," Beech adds.
"This is an exciting opportunity for RheoGene," says its CEO Tom Tillett. "The merger will significantly enhance our therapeutic technology and research capabilities as well as provide the resources to accelerate our therapeutic products for cancer and central nervous system disorders into the clinic.
"RheoGene very much appreciates the support we have received from UPMC over the past three-plus years, which has been instrumental in the refinement of our technologies and launching our first set of therapeutic programs. The merger with Intrexon will position those therapeutic programs in the context of a fully integrated gene-based R&D company with access to substantial private capital."
Intrexon, as its name implies, focuses on transcriptional therapeutics which use both intron and extron parts of exogenous DNA, Breech explains. These are inserted within the cell where they interact with proteins and RNA. The recombinant or fusion proteins localize to a specific, targeted subcellular area. A second part of the Intrexon technology involves decoys that replace the natural partner by binding on one part of the protein to reduce interaction. This technology can be applied to kinase interactions with a substrate target, for example, on a variety of different proteins.
RheoGene technology, as its name implies, modulates the on-off status of genes in the transcriptional state to control their level of expression. The suburban Philadelphia-based company specializes in gene-regulation systems designed to deliver precise genetic control for 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 2005, RheoGene was awarded more than $4 million from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to refine its gene-regulation technology for use with key proteins and growth factors thought to protect critical neuron function and survival. RheoGene also is using its patented technologies to explore possible treatments for melanoma.
Intrexon relocated its operations to Blacksburg, Va. from Cincinnati in 2004. The company notes that it has received significant funding from NewVa Capital Partners, an investment partnership founded by the Virginia Tech Foundation, Carilion Health System and Third Security, LLC.
The management team of Intrexon will be headed by Beech as CEO and Tillett as COO, and will include additional executives from both companies. All RheoGene employees will be offered positions with Intrexon. The merger is subject to approval by the companies' shareholders, as well as regulatory agencies and customary closing conditions. The merger is expected to close in the first quarter of 2007