Arris Pharmaceutical Corp. and Amgen Inc. are joining forces to discover and develop synthetic compounds that mimic the action of cytokines, Arris announced Tuesday. This three-year collaboration pairs Arris' expertise in structure-based drug design with Amgen's (NASDAQ:AMGN) proven strength in cytokine R&D -- especially erythropoietin (EPO) -- to come up with small non-peptidic cytokine mimetics that will bind the super family of cytokine receptors.

The renewable agreement provides for Amgen of Thousand Oaks, Calif., to pay an up-front commitment fee, fund R&D at Arris and make milestone payments based on development benchmarks. In return, Amgen gains the rights to develop compounds discovered under the collaboration, as well as worldwide manufacturing and marketing rights. Arris, a privately held company based in South San Francisco, Calif., will receive royalties on Amgen sales of licensed products. The companies did not disclose financial terms of the agreement.

Arris' cytokine mimetic research focuses on a particular family of cytokines whose receptors are closely related structurally." Members of the cytokine receptor family may share a common pathway for intracellular signaling, which involves a non- covalent association of related tyrosine kinases with the cytoplasmic domain of the receptor," explained John Walker, Arris' president and chief executive officer. This cytokine "super family" was first recognized in 1989 as having a common domain that binds EPO, human growth hormone and interleukin-6, Walker explained. Thus, the therapeutic targets of this research program already have a "clearly demonstrated and significant amount of clinical utility," as well as large, well- defined markets, Walker added. "The programs have research risk but no market risk," Walker told BioWorld. In fact, Arris has been collaborating with the laboratory of Harvey Lodish at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., on receptor research relating to EPO and other cytokines since 1990. Arris also announced Tuesday that it has expanded its collaboration with The Whitehead Institute such that Arris now has the rights to findings by Lodish, who is on Arris' scientific advisory board, in all areas of research. "This expanded collaboration feeds our relationships with both Amgen and Kabi," commented Walker. In April, Arris entered into a three-year collaboration with Sweden's Kabi Pharmacia AB on synthetic orally active versions of cytokines to treat inflammatory disease.

Arris generates small molecule leads for structure-based drug design by using a system called PILOT (peptide initiated ligand optimization technology) to create libraries of compounds that can be screened for potential leads. Arris feeds the data through its artificial intelligence (AI)-based system for structure-based drug design. "The AI program serves as the linchpin to take the data and turn them into lead compounds," explained Walker.

Although not disclosing how much cash the privately held company has on hand, Walker told BioWorld that Arris has sufficient finances to last it through mid-1995 on an "accelerating expense curve."

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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