Pharmacopeia Drug Discovery Inc. could receive up to $189 million in a deal with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to develop compounds inhibiting JAK3, a target that has gained interest over the last few months in the area of inflammatory disease.

Princeton, N.J.-based Pharmacopeia initiated its small-molecule discovery program aimed at inhibiting JAK3, or Janus kinase 3, a couple of years ago, and "we reached the stage where people started knocking on our door," said CEO Les Browne.

Inhibiting or down-regulating JAK3 has shown promise in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases by regulating T-cell response. It's an area that has "been heating up," especially after New York-based Pfizer Inc. released promising data from its Phase II trial of CP-690,550 in rheumatoid arthritis. CP-690,550 is the most advanced JAK3 compound in development.

For Pharmacopeia, the deal with Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth provides up-front money of $5 million, up to $9 million in research funding over the next three years and the potential for $175 million in milestone payments. Beyond that, the company would be eligible for double-digit royalties on any marketed product emerging from the collaboration.

Most importantly, the agreement allows Pharmacopeia to retain worldwide rights to the JAK3 inhibitor program for topical compounds to treat dermatological and ocular indications. Maintaining those "downstream rights" became the company's strategy when it began its shift in 2004 from drug discovery to drug development, Browne said.

"We expect to be able to take compounds in the dermatological and ophthalmologic indications ourselves," he told BioWorld Today, adding that possible indications could include psoriasis and uveitis.

Wyeth, in the meantime, will hold rights to all other indications and routes of administration, and the addition of the JAK3 program is expected to fit nicely with the pharma's inflammatory disease franchise. That includes Enbrel (partnered with Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc.), and its transplant rejection franchise, which includes Rapamune.

At this time, the JAK3 program is at the lead optimization stage. Browne said Pharmacopeia will handle much of the chemistry and biology work for the collaboration, with Wyeth providing its in vivo human disease models.

Overall, it's been a pretty good start to the year for Pharmacopeia, which, in addition to the Wyeth deal, is gearing up to start clinical testing with its lead product, PS433540, a dual-acting receptor antagonist that acts on both angiotensin and the endothelin receptor to treat cardiovascular disease. The company submitted an investigational new drug application in late December, and expects to start enrolling patients this quarter.

All told, Pharmacopeia has nearly a dozen programs in preclinical or clinical development, though most of the clinical programs are with partners. A p38 kinase inhibitor partnered with New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and a compound for inflammatory indications partnered with Kenilworth, N.J.-based Schering-Plough Corp. both are in Phase I and "are on the verge of being Phase II programs," Browne said.

Pharmacopeia, which reported a net loss of $4.7 million, or 31 cents per share, for the third quarter, had cash and cash equivalents totaling $31 million as of Sept. 30, 2006, though the company brought in an additional $25 million in an October public offering.

Shares of Pharmacopeia (NASDAQ:PCOP) rose 14 cents Thursday to close at $4.50.

In separate news, Wyeth signed an agreement with privately held Raven Biotechnologies Inc., of South San Francisco, to develop and commercialize selected monoclonal antibodies developed by Raven. That arrangement gives Wyeth an option for an exclusive license to develop therapies emerging from the program in exchange for undisclosed up-front, milestone and royalty payments.

BLSI Picks Up Cethrin From BioAxone

Boston Life Sciences Inc. agreed to pay BioAxone Therapeutic Inc. $10 million up front, plus up to $25 million in milestones, for worldwide rights to Cethrin, a recombinant protein drug designed to treat acute spinal cord injury, plus other compounds for central nervous system disorders.

Under the terms, BLSI agreed to pay the up-front license fee in two installments: a $2.5 million payment upon execution of the agreement and $7.5 million due on or before March 31, 2007, which BLSI intends to fund with a debt or equity financing. In addition, BioAxone would be entitled to royalties if Cethrin gains regulatory approval.

Designed to specifically target the cellular response in acute spinal cord injury, Cethrin is in a Phase I/IIa trial. Interim results reported in November demonstrated that the drug appeared safe, well tolerated and showed potential to promote the recovery of motor function and sensation in patients with acute spinal cord injury. Cethrin is delivered during decompression/stabilization surgery in a single dose directly onto the dura mater of the injured region of the spinal cord.

Cethrin Designated Orphan Drug In U.S.

BLSI, which focuses primarily on CNS drugs and diagnostics, is in Phase III with Altropane, its molecular imaging agent for diagnosing Parkinsonian syndrome, with a separate Phase II study of Altropane in the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Its research and preclinical programs include Inosine for stroke, a DAT blocker for Parkinson's disease and a second-generation technetium-based molecular imaging agent for Parkinsonian syndrome and ADHD.

BLSI's stock (NASDAQ:BLSI) closed at $2.75 Thursday, up 16 cents.

Sunesis Out-Licenses LFA-1 Program

Sunesis Pharmaceuticals Inc. licensed rights to it LFA-1 inhibitor program to privately held SARcode Corp., which intends to develop small-molecule drugs for inflammatory diseases.

South San Francisco-based Sunesis received a $250,000 license fee and a $250,000 note convertible into preferred stock while SARcode received Series A funding. Beyond that, the company could be entitled to $1 million in license fees and notes, plus up to $31 million in development and marketing milestones, and potential royalties from any marketed compound.

In exchange, SARcode receives an exclusive, worldwide license to the LFA-1 inhibitor program, which Sunesis previously had determined to be outside its strategic focus of developing small-molecule drugs for cancer.

Shares of Sunesis (NASDAQ:SNSS) gained 8 cents Thursday to close at $4.70.