In rapid succession, Infinity Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced its second and third collaborations, forming with two pharmaceutical companies agreements that include equity investments.

Infinity, of Cambridge, Mass., said Wednesday that it signed a coexclusive deal with Novartis AG, of Basel, Switzerland, in which the companies will jointly design a collection of small molecules using Infinity's diversity-oriented synthesis program, and each will be able to use the resulting compounds in drug discovery efforts.

Though a specific funding amount was not disclosed, Infinity said it expected to receive payments of more than $10 million over the two-year agreement with Novartis.

"It's a research collaboration between chemists at Infinity and Novartis to jointly design compounds for both parties to be used," said Adelene Perkins, Infinity's chief business officer.

Early this morning, Infinity announced that it will provide nonexclusive access to its compound collection to Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development, a division of Janssen Pharmaceutica NV. That deal also includes an equity investment, and while Perkins would not disclose the size, she said it was a non-controlling stake.

"Johnson & Johnson made an equity investment and paid an up-front fee," Perkins told BioWorld Today.

Novartis and J&JPRD "appealed to us because of their shared vision for the need for new chemistry," Perkins said.

The deals are Infinity's second and third collaboration. A year ago, the company signed a three-year deal with Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc. in which Infinity agreed to provide nonexclusive access to its compound collection and received a $25 million equity investment from Amgen. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 9, 2004.)

Perkins said that Infinity's three corporate partnerships have brought the company in total $50 million in equity investments.

She said the deal with Novartis allows Infinity to expand its compound collection while maintaining 100 percent of the product rights. Through the equity investments, Infinity also has funding for development of its own product candidates.

"Infinity has employed a two-pronged business strategy: to serve our own drug discovery efforts and to make [the chemical platform] available to others in return for revenue," she said.

The company's diversity-oriented synthesis chemistry is described as a combinatorial synthetic approach for creating 3-dimensional molecules that resemble biologically active molecules. That technology platform has attracted Amgen and now J&JPRD on a nonexclusive basis, giving both companies access to collections of small molecules they can screen against targets and use to identify drug leads.

With three partners now, Infinity has received some platform validation, but more isn't always better.

"It's essential for us not to license it to everyone in the industry because it would become commoditized," Perkins said. "Collaborating with a small group of partners gives us a strategic advantage.

"Our goal in 2005 is to add one additional partner," she said.

Infinity also has focused its efforts on its own drug discovery programs. The company has been able to develop products without having to find partners early on, Perkins said.

However, she added that Infinity likely will look at marketing partners.

Founded in February 2001, Infinity has raised about $85 million to date through fund-raising efforts. Its second round of financing in June 2002 totaled $70 million. (See BioWorld Today, June 25, 2002.)

"Our capital takes us well into 2006," Perkins said, adding that much would depend on how soon the company can begin moving forward on clinical trials for its oncology products.

Its lead compound, IPI540, designed to treat hematologic and solid tumors, is expected to begin clinical trials this year. Perkins said the first trials will evaluate how well the product works against multiple myeloma.

Other products in Infinity's pipeline include a compound aimed at the Hedgehog signaling pathway and a Bcl-2 inhibitor. Both are in preclinical development.

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