Gentris Corp, a Triangle-based start-up developing tests for individual genetic variation that affects drug metabolism, has landed a $1.5 million first round from angel and institutional investors, including Research Triangle Ventures.

Gentris Chief Executive Officer and President Michael P. Murphy tells Local Tech Wire the company wants to be the leading seller of so-called pharmacogenomic testing services and products for drug development.

“Pharmacogenomics,” he explains, “predicts how patients will respond to a given drug based on the patient’s unique genetic profile.”

A patient’s unique genetic makeup affects how the patient’s body uses drugs and clears them from the system. Today, Murphy says, “100,000 people a year die because their bodies can’t metabolize or clear drugs from their system.”

Revenue already coming in

Gentris already has 17 tests commercially available to pharmaceutical companies and “unusual for a startup, we’re producing revenue,” Murphy says.

The company’s investors, obviously, are sold on what Gentris is doing.

Research Triangle Ventures General Partner Fred Hutchison says, “Michael has assembled a great senior management team and has a strong vision for where Gentris is going.”

Angel investor Dr. Meg Humphrey adds: “The ability to predict an individual’s response to a particular drug holds great promise for improving patient care and for designing better therapies.”

Gentris is developing pharmacogenomic diagnostic products and has forged partnerships with one of the contract research industry’s leading players, Toronto-based MDS Pharma Services, part of MDS Inc. (MYSE:MDZ).

Gentris will genotype volunteers for important drug metabolism genes for MDS as diagnostic reference controls. The deal gives Gentris access to samples that it can immediate sell, while MDS gets a database of genetically profiled volunteers who have predictable responses to new pharmaceutical compounds. They would be used to help set up or evaluate clinical trials.

The ultimate benefits of the Gentris tests, Murphy says, would be to shorten drug development times, improve new drug approval rates, and allow approval of drugs that might otherwise have been abandoned for use by a targeted subset of patients.

Gentris is also teaming with San Diego, Calif.-based Nanogen,(Nasdaq:NGEN) which is developing “laboratories on a chip,” that may someday allow fast, inexpensive genotyping for everyone.

Murphy says the pharmacogenomics industry has been loosely regulated in the past, but that more stringent regulations are coming. He believes that development will likely boost the commercial prospects for Gentris’ tests even further.

“Government agencies and the drug development community believe that new quality and regulatory standards” are coming in the “near term,” Murphy says.

The six-employee company will use the money from the funding to build its internal infrastructure, which means “making key hires in the product development area,” and facility enhancements, Murphy says.

The company’s 5,000 square feet of offices and labs in Morrisville are fully compliant with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulations for good lab practices.

A study by Front Line Strategic Management Consulting, Inc. estimated pharmacogenomics would deliver over $30 million dollars in savings per drug by 2010. Multiple studies estimate the market for pharmacogenomic products and services will exceed $10 billion by 2010, according to Gentris.

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