Hopkins to collaborate with Md. biotech firm


In one of the most significant scientific collaborations yet for a Maryland company and Johns Hopkins University, Oncor Inc. has agreed to work with a researcher to develop genetic tests to detect cancer.

The deal, signed yesterday, gives Gaithersburg-based Oncor the exclusive worldwide rights to any technology that is discovered in the laboratory of David Sidransky, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Sidransky worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Bert Vogelstein, a nationally regarded cancer expert who is doing pioneering work on the genetic changes that cause normal cells to turn cancerous.

Dr. Sidransky will attempt to identify the early genetic changes in the bladder, lung, head and neck that could indicate to doctors that a patient is likely to develop cancer.

If the Hopkins work proves successful, the company would use the gene to develop tests for the early detection of cancer. From a sample of sputum or urine, a doctor could be able to tell whether the patient was likely to develop cancer.

"Earlier detection means a higher probability of successful treatment," said Dr. Stephen Turner, Oncor's chairman and president.

"This is a landmark academic and industrial effort," he said. Oncor will give substantial research money to support Dr. Sidransky's laboratory over three years. In return, the company has rights to the technology. The two sides declined to disclose the amount that Oncor would pay to Hopkins.

Oncor's business is to commercialize the discovery of genetic changes that are useful to detect cancer cells. The company, which is not yet profitable, raised $34 million in a secondary public offering in February and planned to use the money for research and development.

Sponsored research is not new at Hopkins or for biotech companies.

However, this is the first time that Hopkins has collaborated with a Maryland biotech company on a scientifically significant project.

In addition, it marks one of the first signs that Hopkins is willing to work with local companies. The university has been criticized in the past for shutting away its technology and not working hard enough to develop the region's industry.

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