Hydra Biosciences Inc. licensed rights to its TRPV3 antagonist program to Pfizer Inc. in a deal valued at up to $195 million.

The work centers around the relatively new area of transient receptor potential, or TRP, channels, which is distinct from traditional voltage gated ion channels. A number of companies have development programs targeting one of the channels, the TRPV1, or vanilloid 1, receptor for pain indications.

Hydra, of Cambridge, Mass., has a preclinical program targeting TRPV3, also a vanilloid receptor and also being studied initially for pain indications.

There are 28 members of the superfamily of TRPs, and Hydra is working on four or five of them, said Russell Herndon, the company's president and CEO.

"This is a new, rich area of opportunity for research," Herndon told BioWorld Today. "Not only are they new, but they are different from voltage-gated channels because they lack homology."

Hydra said TRPs are believed to represent about 10 percent of all ion channels, and act as multimodal signal integrators. The idea is that compounds targeting those channels would have greater potency and selectivity, resulting in fewer side effects.

Pfizer, of New York, gained exclusive worldwide rights to all TRPV3-related compounds coming from the collaboration. In exchange, it will make an undisclosed up-front payment to Hydra and potential development milestones payments that together could total $195 million for the first product. The deal also contemplates upside potential to Hydra based on additional indications or products. Pfizer also will cover all research and development expenses, and would pay Hydra royalties on any resulting sales. More-specific information on the financial aspects of the deal was not disclosed.

Herndon said the lead compound from the TRPV3 program is in the lead-optimization stage. Prior to the partnership, its plan was to name a development candidate in 2008 and to initiate Phase I trials in 2009. "We view this as sort of a validating deal for this novel area of TRP research," Herndon said. "For an early development program, $195 million in the preclinical space is a significant deal."

Herndon said work at Hydra has led to the belief that TRPV3 is associated with various pain states, with antagonists of the target expected to block the channel and prevent the painful episodes. He said there could be applicability in surgical pain, chronic pain, pain from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and neuropathic pain. "We've seen strong preclinical activity in many different animal models for the treatment of pain," he said. "We're seeing efficacy similar to that of morphine and strong NSAIDs, without being narcotic."

Herndon said a Hydra program just behind TRPV3 also focuses on pain, through a different target. Other programs at Hydra involve developing agonists and antagonists of ion channels for treating inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, renal diseases and pulmonary diseases and others.

"We're probably the only company focused on these classes of channels," Herndon said. "As we grow the company, partnerships will be an important aspect. I'm not saying we would be looking to partner all of our programs as early as this one. This was a great opportunity with a world-class pharmaceutical company that's a leader in the area. So it made sense at this time."

Hydra was incorporated in 2001 and has raised about $29 million in its Series A and B rounds, in 2002 and 2004, respectively. The company is working on bringing in additional funds through a Series C round, Herndon said.

The focus at Hydra currently is almost exclusively on ion channels. It previously had programs in vascular therapeutics and regenerative medicines, with the lead from the latter program in cardiac regeneration.

In a news release, Herndon said: "Hydra's growing franchise opportunities in ion channel agonists and antagonists are competitively differentiated. We have distinct capabilities in rapid ion channel assay development and high-throughput screening, we employ the 'gold standard' in characterizing all viable compounds, and we are building a particular expertise in chemistry."