Washington Editor

Genzyme Corp. and Angiotech Pharmaceuticals Inc. are coming together in a cancer alliance that seems like a natural fit.

This week, the companies disclosed an agreement to identify, develop and commercialize new therapies for patients undergoing surgical removal of tumors. The partners are envisioning localized treatments to prevent post-surgery tumor recurrence by directly applying a combined biomaterial-cancer therapeutic at the excision site. Though they have developed nothing yet, in describing their plans, they pointed to a clear need - data recently published in the American Association of Cancer Research Journal showed that tumors return locally in up to half of patients after surgery.

"This was something that needed to be done," explained Angiotech President and CEO William Hunter, noting that past efforts to develop localized treatments have fallen short because of limited technology, development expertise and know-how. But he noted that both Angiotech and Genzyme feature "a broad array of biomaterials," in addition to their respective knowledge of cancer drugs.

In addition to keeping tumor re-growth at bay, resulting products also could be useful in treating inoperable tumors, reducing local tumor side effects and improving surgical outcomes while complementing existing systemic therapies.

Already, there has been at least some evidence supporting the local application of a cancer drug in extending survival in patients at high risk of recurrence.

"We've seen some evidence that's pretty persuasive that these hypotheses are right," said Duke Collier, Genzyme's executive vice president of cardiovascular and oncology. "We just need to see it through."

Hunter told BioWorld Today that the partners would initially tackle subtotal resections, in which "there's tumor left behind" after surgery, and systemic treatments aren't a great option. "Surgeons know they're leaving something behind," Collier added, "and they'd really like something to go after it."

The drug-device product would be used to shrink any remaining tumor and reduce symptoms. Also, subtotal resections would allow the companies to estabish proof of concept.

The deal deepens Genzyme's move into the cancer arena, with its existing oncology program anchored by two marketed leukemia products, Campath (alemtuzumab) and Clolar (clofarabine).

A combination with its long-established biomaterials business, which is projected to generate $400 million in revenues this year, only seems natural and is part of the strategy underlying this deal for the company, of Cambridge, Mass.

"We are years along in thinking about local therapeutics," Collier told BioWorld Today, adding that small-molecule therapeutics would most likely be used in the combination products.

Hunter said different types of carriers could be used for the drugs, depending on the needs of a given surgery. For example, hemostats could be used when bleeding complications are of concern, adhesion barriers when facing scar tissue and sealants when dealing with vasculature.

For Angiotech, of Vancouver, British Columbia, the oncology space represented a key area to expand its drug-device efforts, which are perhaps best known in drug-eluting cardiovascular stents that employ the cancer drug paclitaxel for treating restenosis.

"We felt it was the most pharmaceutical-like product we'd build," Hunter said, noting that the company was looking to align with a firm that combines fundamentals in pharmaceutical and biomaterial development. Relative to those two elements, he added, "There really is no other company than Genzyme to choose to work with."

Terms of the collaboration call for the partners to contribute their respective knowledge in drug screening and development, cell biology, biomaterials and oncology, as well as their respective clinical and commercial infrastructures. They will conduct research jointly, with each contributing personnel, technology and intellectual property.

"No money changed hands," Hunter said, later calling the arrangement "a true partnership."

Down the road, Genzyme will shoulder primary responsibilities for clinical development, manufacturing and worldwide commercialization of any resulting products.

"We know how to take them through the FDA," Collier said, "and we know how to sell them." Angiotech, which will have a hand in product development, as well, will have a co-marketing option.

Collaboration costs and any profits would be shared equally. "We're going in pretty much even-steven," Collier said, so the companies figured "let's just keep it that way."

On Thursday, shares in Genzyme (NASDAQ:GENZ) gained 44 cents to close at $56.68, while Angiotech's stock (NASDAQ:ANPI) dropped 6 cents to $15.18.