West Coast Editor

Wyeth, which already markets BeneFIX recombinant Factor IX for hemophilia, plans to strengthen its franchise in that indication with two deals, and signed a third research and license agreement - valued at up to $110 million - taking aim at central nervous system disorders with the overseas firm Elbion NV.

Focused first on schizophrenia, the research and license deal with Leuven, Belgium-based elbion is centered on the latter's program exploring inhibitors of phosphodiesterase 10, which degrades cAMP and cGMP, molecules responsible for improving the function of several cells in the body, including neurons.

Another player in the space is Memory Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Montvale, N.J., which entered a collaboration with Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc. to push Memory's preclinical PDE10 research. The deal included $5 million up front, plus funding and royalties. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 18, 2005.)

Elbion, formed in 2006 through the merger of Dresden, Germany-based Elbion AG and 4AZA Bioscience NV, gets an undisclosed up-front fee plus research funding and milestone payments as its preclinical PDE10 program moves along.

With Nautilus Biotech, of Paris, Wyeth is collaborating to find longer-acting Factor IX proteins for hemophilia B. Under the terms of the licensing pact, Nautilus will apply its protein engineering, which is said to make "minimal and specific" changes to the amino acid sequence in order to slow breakdown in the body.

Specific financial details were not disclosed, but the deal brings cash up front, plus research and development funding, milestone payments and royalties for Nautilus.

The protein-engineering deal complements biomaterials-focused MediVas LLC's efforts with Wyeth, which also are directed at increasing the half-life of hemophilia therapy, but through the use of polymer-based drug delivery. MediVas is due milestone payments plus eventual royalties, as Wyeth handles research, development, manufacture and marketing.

"It's a small market in terms of overall numbers of patients, but the dollars are not particularly small," noted Victor Vilaplana, director of business development for San Diego-based MediVas. "[Treatments] are expensive and people have to take them for the rest of their lives."

Hemophilia A, caused by the lack of Factor VIII, afflicts about 14,500 Americans, and hemophilia B, caused by a Factor IX deficiency, hits about 3,600. About 130,000 people are affected worldwide.

MediVas hopes to find a new route for delivering hemophilia therapies by combining its polymer with Wyeth's compounds. Vilaplana told BioWorld Today the approach could be subcutaneous or even oral, which is "certainly a novel concept," he allowed. "But the relationship is not specific to oral [formulations]. We're going to look at all sorts of delivery."

Others pursuing the $5 billion market include Syntonix Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Waltham, Mass., which Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen Idec Inc. is buying out, in a potential $120 million deal disclosed in January. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 5, 2007.) Syntonix is conducting preclinical experiments with a long-acting Factor IX product for hemophilia B, dubbed FIX:Fc, as well as a long-acting Factor VIII program for hemophilia A.

Both are based on the company's SynFusion technology, which combines the Fc region of an antibody with a single copy of a peptide or protein to extend circulating half-life.

At the start of last year, Syntonix licensed overseas rights to FIX:Fc to Biovitrum AB, of Stockholm, Sweden. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 24, 2006.)