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Curis Inc.'s bone morphogenetic protein-7 for kidney disease could move along more quickly with another partner, now that longstanding licensee Ortho Biotech Products L.P. has terminated the deal. But all work on the compound is still preclinical, and Curis has just begun contacting potential collaborators.

In late 2002, Curis licensed the technology to the subsidiary of New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson, centered on BMP-7, for all indications except repair or regeneration of local musculoskeletal tissue defects and dental defects, which are covered under a separate deal with Stryker Corp., of Kalamazoo, Mich. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 2, 2005.)

"This was a straight license [deal], there was nothing done in house," said Michael Gray, chief financial officer for Curis, adding that "everything that has been done" was done by Ortho. Curis' leadership expressed "concern" on that score in a press release, but Gray declined to comment further.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Curis hinted in its first-quarter earnings report about a stumbling block for the BMP program, noting that the company was "facing important decisions." BMP screening was being done under a deal with Centocor Inc., another J&J subsidiary, and the agreement concluded in mid-March. Curis said it would try for a new deal with Centocor. Such was not the stumbling block in the development of BMP-7, though, and the Centocor arrangement was "pretty small," Gray said.

BMP-7 is a signaling protein made in the kidney that has been implicated in that organ's health, as well as the upkeep of the skeleton and vascular system, so the compound could stop the scarring brought about by chronic kidney disease as well as help with related trouble such as blood-vessel calcification and bone disease. The activity of the BMP class first hit the radar in 1965, with publication of research in the journal Science.

In early 2005, the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology published a report showing that BMP-7 prevented renal osteodystrophy and vascular calcification by stimulating the rate of skeletal mineralization.

"There have been a lot of published data," Gray said.

Curis is working on the small molecule CUDC-101, with an investigational new drug application targeted for early next year. The compound inhibits EGFR and Her2 kinases as well as a non-kinase Target A. Talks are under way with would-be partners for that, too, and Curis hopes to stay involved at least in the early stages of clinical tests.

South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc. has a Phase I clinical trial under way with a small molecule Hedgehog antagonist for cancer, and Curis with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Madison, N.J., is conducting preclinical research on small molecule Hedgehog agonists for the treatment of stroke. Wyeth by itself is looking into a systemically administered Hedgehog protein as a possible treatment for cardiovascular disease. (See BioWorld Today, April 5, 2005.)

"Over the last few years, most of our assets have been under funded research arrangements," Gray said, but resources from those deals have ended except for some revenue from Wyeth. Research and development efforts are likely to shift this year toward Curis' targeted cancer drug platform, and away from the Hedgehog pathway and other programs.

The firm had cash and cash equivalents, plus short-term marketable securities, of about $32.7 million as of March 31. That's enough to operate until very late 2008 or early 2009, Gray said.

Curis' shares (NASDAQ:CRIS) closed Monday at $1.39, down 11 cents.

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