Abingworth and GIMV Back Worm Genomics Group

Abingworth Management of the UK linked with GIMV of Belgium to make its first Continental European investment through its new $100 million fund, Abingworth Bioventures II. The two groups have provided $8.5 million (ecu 7.6 million) backing to Devgen, a Ghent-based drug development and genomics company.

Devgen centres its research around the C. elegans worm, a multicellular eukaryote which, with features such as an epidermis, complex nervous system, gut, muscle, etc., has many biochemical pathways similar to humans. The position and role of each cell in the C. Elegans is known, and human genes can readily be inserted in the worm genome, functionally replacing the work genes in complex biochemical and signal transduction pathways. The worm offers multiple advantages over other model organisms such as Drosophila or mice: It is unique in combining high through-put whole-organism drug discovery with in-depth genetic, cell, biological, pharmacological and biochemical analysis.

Using the C. Elegans, Devgen is working to identify compounds acting in specific disease pathways, assign function to human genes, validate drug targets and discover optimal drug targets in selected disease areas. Devgen has already located and patented a number of novel genes with relevance as new drug targets.

The company’s founders are noted worm biologists Professor Thierry Bogaert of the University of Ghent and the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and Dr Michael Hengartner, a member of the faculty at Cold Spring Harbour laboratory, New York. Devgen, which is a spin-out from the VIB, has assembled an international group of C. Elegans experts to advise on its research strategy, and has also set up collaborations in specific disease areas with research groups in Europe and the US.

Abingworth Management director Stephen Bunting commented: “The timing of this investment has coincided with a recognition by the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries that worm biology has a major role to play in drug development and genomics”.