West Coast Editor

Amid reports of pre-holiday bidding for Biogen Idec Inc., the firm's potential $380 million deal with the Swiss firm Neurimmune Therapeutics AG for antibodies against Alzheimer's disease signals a business-as-usual approach that could make Biogen that much more tempting to would-be acquirers.

Biogen's stock (NASDAQ:BIIB) closed Tuesday at $70.21, down 4 cents.

The worldwide pact focuses on antibodies that bind to amyloid beta, the peptide that forms the plaques believed responsible for Alzheimer's, for which no approved, disease-slowing drugs exist. Neurimmune, of Zurich, Switzerland, will identify candidates with its Reverse Translational Medicine platform, and Biogen will provide up-front fees and milestone payments, totaling up to $380 million, though the companies did not break down the amounts. Biogen, in charge of development and commercialization, also will pay royalties.

Jennifer Chao, analyst with Deutsche Bank, noted that the early stage deal reinforces Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen as the neurology partner of choice, and shores up the firm's pipeline in that space, thus supporting a higher valuation in merger talks.

"My sense is we may have a better sense on takeover outlook over the next four weeks, following what has been discussed as potentially first-round bids due by November-end," she told BioWorld Today.

Biogen's making the Neurimmune deal in the midst of acquisition plays "really doesn't apply as a surrogate for progress on the transaction," and most involved will view the agreement as positive, she said.

"I would say if management were very concerned about 'perception' they could have held back," she said, but Biogen "[has] a business to run, either way, deal or no deal."

In mid-October, the company made official its quest for buyers. Billionaire Carl Icahn, who owned 1 percent of the company, helped spur interest by putting $23 billion on the table, and New York-based Pfizer Inc. was among those sniffing around. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 16, 2007.)

Icahn since has upped his Biogen stake to about 3 percent, or 8.8 million shares. He also disclosed in an SEC filing that, as of Sept. 30, his investment firm owned 1.5 million shares of Cambridge, Mass.-based Genzyme Corp., then worth $94 million. The shares amount to less than 1 percent of the company, but Icahn's stake suggested to some observers that the tycoon would target Genzyme next.

A handful of Alzheimer's drugs relieve some of the symptoms, aiding memory and cognition, but do not stop the disease's inexorable march. Approved compounds include Aricept (donepezil, Pfizer Inc.), Exelon (rivastigmine, Novartis AG), Cognex (tacrine, First Horizon Pharmaceutical Corp.), Reminyl (galantamine, Shire Pharmaceuticals Group plc) and Namenda (memantine, Forest Laboratories Inc.).

Candidates for better treatment include Phase III Flurizan (tarenflurbil, Myriad Genetics Inc.), which selectively lowers levels of amyloid beta 42, and the Phase III-ready monoclonal antibody bapineuzumab (Elan Corp. plc and Wyeth), which could clear amyloid beta from the brain.

Most, but not all, Alzheimer's therapies in the works target amyloid beta. Last week, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Pipex Pharmaceuticals Inc. pointed to data from neuroscientists at the University of Rochester, which showed excess copper not only could cause the buildup of amyloid plaque, but also damage low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein, which acts as a natural escort for ridding the brain of amyloid beta. In a mouse model, Pipex's lead anti-copper drug candidate, oral Coprexa (tetrathiomolybdate) gained a significant reduction in central nervous system copper (p < 0.05) and a 40 percent drop in insoluble amyloid beta (p < 0.05).