West Coast Editor

Building upon its ophthalmology franchise, Pfizer Inc. entered an agreement with Angiosyn Inc. to buy the privately held start-up for an up-front payment and other compensation valued at up to $527 million, not counting royalties, which also are part of the deal.

The money is "well spread across the continuum" of developing La Jolla, Calif.-based Angiosyn's single preclinical asset, said David Mack, the company's CEO and director at Alta Partners in San Francisco.

Angiosyn would become a wholly owned subsidiary of New York-based Pfizer under the terms of the deal, which is expected to close this quarter.

Formed in May 2003, based on work by Martin Friedlander and Paul Schimmel of The Scripps Research Institute and with help from Alta, Angiosyn has been working on a biologic product that represents its lone asset, Mack said. The compound has reached the stage at which an investigational new drug application can be filed.

"That's in Pfizer's hands now," he said. "It's a matter of tying the bow on the package."

Macugen (pegaptanib sodium) from Pfizer and Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc., also of New York, was approved by the FDA last month. The latest news touched off a wave of speculation in the mainstream press that Pfizer had lost faith in Eyetech, and that Angiosyn's product would compete with Macugen. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 21, 2004.)

"Not true," Mack told BioWorld Today, on both counts. "We've demonstrated in preclinical models that [Angiosyn's product, which like Macugen is delivered to the back of the eye] is synergistic" with an aptamer identical to Macugen, which Mack called "a terrific therapy."

Alta is an investor in Eyetech and "we have a good dialogue with the company," he noted.

"What we've all recognized is that macular degeneration is a very complicated disease process, and it's still an unmet medical need," Mack said. "There's room for compounds to work in conjunction with Macugen to improve vision, and that's where we're trying to get to. Pfizer sees that these are complementary products, and they want to play with both."

Macugen, officially launched last week, binds to vascular endothelial growth factor 165, a protein that plays a role in angiogenesis and increased permeability, or leakage from blood vessels. VEGF also is the target of a Phase III macular degeneration product, Lucentis (ranibizumab), from South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc., but the Angiosyn compound works through a different pathway.

The company has "a very good handle on the manufacturing process, so the cost of goods is extremely attractive and the yields of the process are very robust," Mack added.

"We had a lot of options for the company, including traditional private equity venture funding," he said. "Pfizer really showed us they know this space. They know how to design clinical trials here, and they know ophthalmics not only clinically but from the sales and marketing side. They were hands down the best partner we can possibly find here."

Mack said he is confident Pfizer will push the product along with all due speed.

"We recognize there are risks," he said. "We've de-risked every other aspect of the project, but you can't de-risk the clinic."

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