RiboGene, Soviets in Biotechnology Joint Venture

From a Times Staff Writer

A Silicon Valley company and a Soviet research institute said Wednesday that they agreed to form a joint venture in biotechnology.

The arrangement, between RiboGene of Menlo Park and the Institute of Protein Research of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, is believed to be the first Soviet participation in a joint venture using unproven technology. It is also unusual in that, unlike other ventures between Soviets and Westerners, this one will operate in the United States, somewhere in the Silicon Valley.

The Soviets bring to the partnership their expertise in a technology to produce proteins that can be used in research and as the basis for drugs. The Soviets will receive a 15% stake in RiboGene (formerly Transgene) and 49% of the joint venture. RiboGene will control the remainder of the joint venture.

RiboGene hopes to manufacture instrumentation for use with the new technique. The joint venture would get revenue by licensing the technology to other companies.

Most of today's biotechnology products are genetically engineered proteins of one sort or another. Today's standard genetic engineering techniques make large quantities of proteins by inserting the desired gene or genetic material into cells of either bacteria or mammals (such as mice). The cells then multiply, becoming miniature factories and producing copious amounts of the protein--along with many different and unwanted proteins that must be weeded out in a costly purification process.

Kin-Ping Wong, a professor at Cal State-Fresno and one of three founders of RiboGene, was working on another protein-production method, using ribosomes, the part of a cell that makes proteins. Though the method results in very pure proteins, it tended to shut itself off after a very short time.

The Soviet researchers apparently have discovered a way to keep the protein-production process going for hours.

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