In its first major discovery partnership, FivePrime Therapeutics Inc. could receive more than $75 million from partner Boehringer Ingelheim as the companies collaborate to identify therapeutics for rheumatoid arthritis.

San Francisco-based FivePrime entered a two-year research and license agreement with the pharma firm, during which FivePrime will use its rapid protein discovery system to find targets and therapeutics that Boehringer could choose to license.

Although the companies did not break down the $75 million, FivePrime is "very pleased with the arrangement," said Gail Maderis, president and CEO of the privately held firm. "This provides significant funding for us in the way of research support," and was structured as "an industry-standard deal," that also includes an up-front payment and research milestones, as well as development milestones and royalties if a product is licensed by Boehringer.

"We expect to do more partnerships like this one during the year," Maderis said.

Founded in 2002, FivePrime was formed to develop a protein discovery platform based on high-throughput screening.

The company spent the first couple of years bringing together all the components for system, including a collection of secreted proteins and their receptors, and the development of a complex cell-based assay to rapidly screen those proteins.

"We're looking for protein drugs for antibody targets," Maderis told BioWorld Today, adding that, with FivePrime's platform, "we're finding that we can identify many new biologics that others have missed."

She said it was that ability that attracted Ingelheim, Germany-based Boehringer, which has an established contract biologics manufacturing business and is looking to expand its own biologics pipeline.

Boehringer "has a long track record in that area," Maderis said, "so there was a great opportunity to use our discovery platform to look for new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis."

FivePrime's screening system also has yielded "our own robust internal pipeline," she said, adding that the company will be seeking partners to help develop those efforts, as well.

Lead products are in preclinical development and include FPT039, a modified growth factor receptor that targets a protein identified on breast cancer cells and also found to be overexpressed in lung, ovarian and prostate cancer. That product is expected to enter the clinic around mid-2007.

For Type II diabetes, the company is developing FPT038, a small protein designed to work by regulating glucose uptake in the skeletal muscles, a mechanism that would be insulin-sparing and would decrease blood glucose without causing hypoglycemia. FPT038 also is expected to begin human trials next year.

Though the Boehringer deal is FivePrime's first disease-specific collaboration, the company signed an agreement earlier this year with biomedical firm Biosite Inc., of San Diego. In that deal, FivePrime would provide targets for Biosite's diagnostics, and Biosite would generate antibodies for FivePrime's therapeutic program. No terms were disclosed.

To date, FivePrime has raised about $85 million in private financing. Its most recent round brought in about $45 million in February 2005. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 10, 2005.)