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GSK Deal Adds to Five Prime's List of Big Pharma Conquests

By Mari Serebrov
Washington Editor

Five Prime Therapeutics Inc. added another notch to its growing list of biologics-development relationships with big pharma players, signing on with GlaxoSmithKline plc for their second partnership.

Under the new collaboration, GSK will have access to the biotech's drug discovery platforms, as well as its collection of functional human secreted proteins and transmembrane receptor proteins, in up to six programs to identify first-in-class agents – be they antibodies, recombinant proteins or small molecules – to treat the most serious forms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

GSK will have an option to exclusively license selected targets. The London-based pharma would take sole responsibility for additional preclinical studies, clinical development, manufacturing and worldwide commercialization for most of the targets.

However, the agreement gives Five Prime the opportunity to advance some of the resulting biologics through human proof-of-mechanism studies, after which GSK would have an exclusive option to license the global rights for each candidate for up to $193.5 million, including milestone payments.

Five Prime would realize smaller payments for the products GSK develops, Aaron Knickerbocker, the biotech's vice president of business development, told BioWorld Today.

Although full financial terms have not been disclosed, Knickerbocker said over the next four years, Five Prime is eligible to receive up to $30 million, including an up-front payment, GSK equity buys and development funding. The South San Francisco-based biotech also would get royalties, should the collaboration produce approved biologics.

The partnership is the second one in two years the privately held biotech has signed with GSK. The first one, signed in August 2010, was expanded last year to broaden the screening modalities to identify possible targets for skeletal muscle diseases and conditions. This second collaboration is broader and offers Five Prime a greater economic return if it's successful, Knickerbocker said.

The strength of the first partnership led to the new agreement, Five Prime President and CEO Lewis "Rusty" Williams told BioWorld Today. "We like working with GSK," he added, noting that both partners can learn from the expertise of the other.

Another attraction was that the collaboration is in the respiratory space, a key focus for Five Prime. "This was a very deliberate step for us," Williams said.

Five Prime's pipeline includes a biologic targeting asthma. The company plans to take the candidate as far as it can on its own, but it's not ruling out a future partnership. "We think it has a lot of promise," Williams said.

Both he and Knickerbocker noted the unmet need in treating the most serious forms of asthma and COPD, which aren't adequately managed with current therapies. There's been little progress in the space in recent decades, Williams added.

Although it's a big area of interest, the respiratory space isn't Five Prime's sole focus. Its lead candidate, HGS1036, completed a Phase I trial more than a year ago in patients with advanced solid tumors. The FGFR1:Fc fusion protein is being developed through a regional collaboration with Human Genome Sciences Inc., which has rights in Canada, Europe and the U.S.

Five Prime also had a three-year research program with Pfizer Inc., centered on discovering antibody targets and protein therapeutics for cancer and diabetes. And it collaborated with Johnson & Johnson unit Centocor Research & Development Inc. in identifying candidates for immunology-related indications.