As it seeks to build its pipeline with promising targets and technologies, MedImmune Inc. acquired an exclusive license to a molecule that might be useful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other immunological diseases.

MedImmune, of Gaithersburg, Md., will work with GenPat77 Pharmacogenetics AG, of Berlin, to identify and develop biologics and small molecules targeting TIRC7, a molecule that is implicated in immune regulation.

TIRC7 is expressed on subsets of T and B cells. Analysis of the phenotype of TIRC7 in null mice and studies with anti-TIRC7 antibodies indicate that TIRC7 might play a critical role in the negative regulation of immune responses.

"MedImmune is focused in the areas of pediatric infectious disease, cancer and immunology," said Jamie Lacey, the company's director of media and public relations. "As we look at this particular collaboration opportunity, there is a potential in the immunology area to add another component to our pipeline."

MedImmune will be responsible for all clinical development, manufacturing and worldwide commercialization of products resulting from the program. GenPat77 will receive an up-front payment, preclinical research and development funding, and potentially milestone payments and royalties based on the successful development and marketing of products that come out of the program.

Lacey said the companies are not disclosing any further financial terms.

Founded in 1998, GenPat77 develops biopharmaceutical drugs in the areas of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and transplant rejection.

TIRC7 was identified in 1995 by Nalan Utku, GenPat77's president and CEO, as well as Edgar Milford and Steven Gullans at Brigham and Women's Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard's medical school.

While the TIRC7 program is in the preclinical stage of development, Lacey said it's "too soon to say" when a lead candidate might move into the clinic.

When it does, GenPat77 will receive undisclosed milestone payments, which could slow the company's need for additional financings. The company conducted its first round in 2000 for €5 million (US$6.2 million), and its second round in 2002 for the same amount.

A clinical candidate also would give MedImmune a new area in which to focus. The company markets FluMist, among several other products, and is developing Vitaxin in Phase II trials for oncology indications, and CAIV-T in Phase III trials for infectious diseases.

MedImmune dropped development of Vitaxin in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis following poor Phase II data in August, but is continuing to develop the protein in Phase II melanoma and prostate cancer trials. The company hopes to enter Phase III trials in 2005. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 31, 2004.)

CAIV-T, which stands for Cold Adapted Influenza Vaccine-Trivalent, is a second-generation liquid formulation of FluMist.

"That's part of our FluMist franchise and we are working toward expanding the indication with a filing expected in the 2007 time frame," Lacey told BioWorld Today.

FluMist, the company's live intranasal influenza virus vaccine, was approved in June 2003 and made $31 million in sales in the 2003-2004 flu season. MedImmune inherited the product when it acquired Mountain View, Calif.-based Aviron Inc. in January 2002. The company has held all rights to the drug since partner Wyeth, of Madison, N.J., terminated their collaboration in the spring. (See BioWorld Today, April 28, 2004.)

While MedImmune has its own pediatric and oncology sales force, Lacey said it is too soon to tell if the company would market any TIRC7 products or partner them with another company.

"We would examine that as we get closer to market," she said.

MedImmune's stock (NASDAQ:MEDI) rose 53 cents on Friday, to close at $24.23.

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