Aptamer-focused Archemix Inc. added to a deal spree that tapered at the start of the year, and found two nice fits overseas, including a cancer pact worth $29.8 million in up-front equity from Merck KGaA, plus an option to buy more stock when the firm goes public.
"It's very large and much more strategic" than the previous deal with Merck, said Errol De Souza, president and CEO of Archemix. The latest deal includes a co-development and co-promotion option on any of the products being developed on a split cost and profit-sharing basis in the U.S.
"This is the first time we've made such a deal in a broad area - it could be for up to eight products," De Souza said, noting that an earlier deal with Elan Corp. plc includes a co-development possibility but no co-marketing option in the area of autoimmune inflammatory disease.
"We've got to realize where our strengths are, and where we can make a difference," he said. "For us, the goal is to find the right balance between proprietary development in the acute cardiovascular space, and forming the right kind of strategic alliances in, for example, oncology."
Under the terms of the arrangement with Darmstadt, Germany-based Merck's division, Merck Serono, Archemix's Selex technology will help find drug candidates not only in cancer (as the primary aim), but in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Merck also gets a license to use Selex for internal target validation.
Selex stands for "systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment," and is described as an iterative process that identifies aptamers to chosen molecular targets from a large pool of nucleic acids.
Merck gets an option for product licenses to certain of Archemix's lead-stage aptamer programs and the right to select and develop aptamers against six targets in oncology and other indications.
The first Merck deal capped a six-month, four-deal period in January, when Cambridge, Mass.-based Archemix got up-front money as well as research funding for up to $10 million from the pharma giant, plus milestone payments and royalties.
Separately, Archemix disclosed Monday that it has inked a multi-year, three-target deal with Osaka, Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., which means $6 million up front from Takeda plus milestone payments and royalties. Other Archemix partners include such names as Pfizer Inc., Elan, Nuvelo Inc., Antisoma plc. and Regado Biosciences Inc.
The firm has candidates in the works on its own, including the lead compound ARC1779, which in July completed a Phase I trial. That lead compound is being developed as a clot buster for use in angioplasty and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP).
Based on the proof of mechanism from the Phase I study, Archemix plans a Phase II study in the fourth quarter to evaluate safety and efficacy in acute coronary syndrome patients, as well as a Phase Ib study in TTP, an orphan indication.
"Our core internal area, where we want to take products from target all the way to market, is the acute cardiovascular space," De Souza said.
"If you look beyond that, peeling the onion, then oncology becomes a strategic area. We're going to be the front-end engine, but we're not going to develop clinical expertise, at least not in the short term," he noted.
Archemix has made six deals in the past 12 months. Activity should slow down now, certainly in the cancer space, where Archemix plans to concentrate on "being the best partner we can be" for Merck, which "markets one of the best antibodies in oncology, Erbitux" (cetuximab), outside the U.S., he said.
Merck's option to buy more stock when Archemix prices its initial public offering shouldn't get anybody excited about an IPO right away.
De Souza noted that, even in the Nuvelo deal, the partner has "an obligation - not an option - to come into our IPO for up to $10 million, and that was a year ago." (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 2, 2006.)