Washington Editor

Ansata Therapeutics Inc. could receive up to $14 million, perhaps more, through a therapeutic dermatology relationship that licenses its antimicrobial peptide technology to Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp.

"We're not really disclosing what exactly they're getting from us," Ansata CEO Dee Conger said. "But it is a large chunk of what we're doing."

In addition to the exclusive worldwide development and license agreement, the companies also signed other ancillary agreements. Conger conceded that much of Medicis' interest lies in Ansata's lead compound, which is expected to enter clinical trials next month. The product was born of screening efforts that resulted in the discovery of multiple peptides with enhanced stability and deliverability relative to other peptides, all of which are of interest to Medicis.

But the agreement does not stipulate that Ansata will hand over its early stage products. Instead, Medicis will help steer those development programs going forward.

"We have complete control over the programs that we're doing," Conger said. "It really is a true collaboration, with us running clinical trials during the term of our deal. They will advise us on the selection of CROs, clinical strategy and data review, and provide resources that they have to help us along."

Ansata, which is headquartered in La Jolla, Calif., will conduct clinical trials and submit all FDA filings. Its compounds are based on naturally occurring human peptides.

Terms of the deal call for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Medicis to pay Ansata about $5 million upon signing, and another $9 million payment upon successful completion of certain clinical development milestones related to the lead compound. Should Medicis continue to develop the technology, and opt to fund Phase II, it would owe additional milestone payments.

Both companies declined to provide more specific terms on the deal's full monetary potential, but for Ansata, the deal represents an ideal chance to align itself with a specialty pharmaceutical company that already markets six dermatological products.

"We are a young, start-up company with some very interesting technology," Conger said. "Medicis is a titan, if you will, in commercializing dermatology products. So for us, they were the perfect partner."

Initially funded in large part through $5 million in venture capital backing in a Series A round that closed in March 2003, Ansata's research has focused on the use of its antimicrobial peptide technology platform to develop therapeutics for topical dermatologic indications. The peptides are part of the body's innate immune system, representing a new class of anti-infective drugs designed to combat multidrug-resistant pathogens.

On Wednesday, Medicis' shares (NYSE:MRX) dropped 24 cents to close at $36.42.

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