Washington Editor

MedImmune Inc. acquired rights to a target for certain inflammatory diseases from Japan Tobacco (JT) Inc., with a lead compound the deal's centerpiece.

The agreement marks MedImmune's second inflammatory disease in-licensing arrangement in the past two weeks. In the latest, the Gaithersburg, Md.-based company is gaining access to a monoclonal antibody aimed at pathways within the CD28 receptor family.

Calling this "a novel target," MedImmune's public relations director, Jamie Lacey, said that adding it to the company's inflammatory disease pipeline "underscores our broad commitment to developing innovative therapies for the treatment of unmet medical needs in this disease space." In addition, she told BioWorld Today that further work in this area would increase its scientific knowledge "related to the role of signaling pathways in regulating immune response outcomes."

MedImmune's initial efforts will center on the lead antibody, an inhibitor of a protein receptor called inducible-costimulator (ICOS), which is believed to play a key role in controlling adaptive immune responses and thereby regulate T-cell dependent activation of B cells. Inappropriate activation of T cells resulting in B-cell activation is implicated in a variety of autoimmune disorders, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome, a systemic disease in which white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands that can affect organs and cause fatigue.

This research will readily fold into the company's existing programs, Lacey said, noting its heavy focus on T cells and B cells for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. While she declined to specify a precise timeline for advancing the lead antibody into the clinic, there is near-term work ahead.

"When we bring [programs] in," Lacey said, "we take a look at the work that's been done by the other company, look at it on our own, blend the two scientific approaches and see where we go from there."

Preclinical studies conducted by JT have shown that using monoclonal antibodies to inhibit ICOS is effective in models of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, multiple sclerosis and lupus. In return for out-licensing the target, the Tokyo-based company is due to receive an up-front fee and milestone payments, followed by royalties on sales of the lead antibody and any other future marketed products resulting from this agreement. More specific financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In addition, JT will retain exclusive Japanese rights to the lead antibody, while MedImmune will control its exclusive development and marketing rights for the rest of world, as well as certain worldwide rights for other antibodies developed as a result of the agreement.

For MedImmune, the in-license represents the latest in a string of such deals over the last 18 months to bolster its portfolio. Most have been in the cancer and inflammatory disease fields, Lacey said, and this latest agreement "fits in nicely" with the latter research area.

A related and recent deal is MedImmune's new licensing and collaboration agreement with BioWa Inc., of Princeton, N.J., to develop and commercialize inflammatory disease therapies targeting the interleukin-5 receptor. Initially, the companies will focus on developing BIW-8405, a monoclonal antibody in Phase I studies for asthma. MedImmune acquired its exclusive marketing rights in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, while BioWa is getting an undisclosed up-front fee, milestone payments and future royalties.

On Thursday, shares in MedImmune (NASDAQ:MEDI) lost 30 cents to close at $32.05.