ImmunoGen Inc. licensed certain rights to its Tumor-Activated Prodrug (TAP) technology to Centocor Inc. in a deal worth up to $43.5 million, plus royalties.

"This is deal No. 7," said Mitchel Sayare, chairman and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based ImmunoGen. "It says there are a lot of companies that are interested in this, that are willing to spend millions of dollars to access our payload technology."

Malvern, Pa.-based Centocor, a Johnson & Johnson company, gains exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize cancer drugs involving a Centocor antibody that binds to an undisclosed cancer target and a maytansinoid cell-killing agent developed by ImmunoGen.

Centocor will cover all research, development, manufacturing and marketing expenses of any product that results. ImmunoGen will receive a $1 million up-front payment for the license, and it is entitled to a total of $42.5 million in milestone payments related to clinical progress. The company also would receive royalties.

In addition, ImmunoGen will receive compensation for product development research and for the production of preclinical and early clinical materials for Centocor. Sayare declined to give further financial details.

As Sayare mentioned, Centocor is the seventh major company that has licensed ImmunoGen's TAP technology.

"It's yet another deal out-licensing our technology platform that is focused on the use of monoclonal antibodies to treat cancer," Sayare told BioWorld Today. "So I think we've hit the big three: Biogen Idec, Centocor, and of course, Genentech."

The agreement with Biogen Idec Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., was signed in October and also is worth about $43 million. The collaboration with South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc. was formed in 2000. (See BioWorld Today, May 5, 2000; May 9, 2000; and Oct. 7, 2004.)

The other agreements are with Aventis SA, of Lyon, France, which now is part of the Sanofi-Aventis Group; Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, of Ingelheim, Germany; Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.; and Abgenix Inc., of Fremont, Calif.

The deals, Sayare said, fulfill ImmunoGen's business model of out-licensing its platform in order to pay for the company's own products in development. Those products include huN901-DM1, which is in a Phase I/II trial for small-cell lung cancer. Initial data from that trial will be reported in the spring at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting. A second internal product in development is huC242-DM4 for colorectal and pancreatic cancers. ImmunoGen expects to move that product back into the clinic in the middle of 2005. It was in the clinic at one time, but the company pulled it back to tweak it, Sayare said.

With about $95 million in cash as of Sept. 30 and a burn rate of between $10 million and $13 million a year, ImmunoGen has plenty of money going forward. It might even hold onto its internal products through clinical trials and regulatory filings, as opposed to forming partnerships early in development.

"We know that we'll go at least through the establishment of proof-of-concept data," Sayare said.

ImmunoGen has two partnered products in the clinic. Millennium developed MLN2704, a TAP compound that is in Phase I/II testing for prostate cancer. And Boehringer Ingelheim developed the TAP compound bivatuzumab mertansine, which moved into clinical testing in October 2002.

The TAP technology is designed to provide cancer-targeting engineered antibodies with clinical activity. ImmunoGen attaches a cell-killing agent, called a "payload," to the antibody, which carries it to cancer cells.

As more companies have focused on monoclonal antibodies in treating cancer, they have turned to ImmunoGen's technology for help when the antibodies don't seem to do anything, Sayare said.

"Those companies have come to us" to access that payload technology, he said, and ImmonoGen is able to improve the performance of the antibodies.

ImmunoGen's stock (NASDAQ:IMGN) rose 82 cents Tuesday, or 11.5 percent, to close at $7.93.

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