TransTech Pharma Inc. secured another partnership, courtesy of its platform technology, in a collaboration that could be worth at least $26 million to the 5-year-old firm.

Looking to bolster its pipeline, Merck & Co Inc. is turning to TransTech's TTP Translational Technology, a drug discovery process designed to translate genomics and proteomics information into therapeutic products. The pharmaceutical firm will use the platform to discover and develop small molecules for an undisclosed target in which it has an interest.

"We're able to take on early targets at the protein level," TransTech President and CEO Adnan Mjalli told BioWorld Today, "and translate that knowledge into small-molecule modulators that are safe, effective and in human trials in less than three years. It bypasses most of the classical requirements and bottlenecks that are known to traditionally make the [drug discovery and development] process very expensive."

He said the Translational Technology avoids the need to screen millions of compounds, to express large amounts of proteins, to do 3-dimensional X-rays, and for lengthy lead optimization and additional chemistry. Internal and external tests have demonstrated the platform's ability against a range of biological targets including protein-protein interactions, receptor modulators and enzyme inhibitors.

Terms of the deal give Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck the exclusive right to develop and commercialize all compounds directed at the target covered by the collaboration. In exchange, High Point, N.C.-based TransTech is receiving an up-front payment and research support, as well as milestone payments for the discovery, development and marketing approval of a small molecule for a top-priority indication. Such funding could total up to $26 million for the privately held company, which also would receive royalties on eventual sales.

"TransTech will take the target and apply our Translational Technology to devise multiple 3-D structures in silico," Mjalli said, adding that the company would then look to define a binding site. "It helps us find a scaffold by which an optimal drug candidate can be reaped very quickly and very efficiently. And obviously finding the initial molecule, followed by the rapid optimization, would deliver a potential drug candidate for Merck and trigger a major milestone payment for TransTech."

The agreement also provides for milestone payments for the discovery and development of other small molecules for lower-priority indications. Mjalli noted that should the collaboration produce multiple compounds in both the initial indication and others, the deal's value "could be much higher," though the partners did not disclose more specific financial terms.

TransTech is involved in two other similar research collaborations to discover and develop drug candidates. An agreement with Novo Nordisk A/S, of Bagsvaerd, Denmark, is focused on diabetes, and an alliance with Cephalon Inc., of West Chester, Pa., is centered on Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

"These collaborations have progressed very nicely, as expected," Mjalli said, but he was not able to provide updates on the collaborations due to partners' restrictions.

TransTech's internal research has produced two clinical-stage programs. It has advanced an oral anticoagulant, called TTP889, into Phase II, while a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, called TTP488, is in Phase I.

"We've been able to deliver two clinical drug candidates against very challenging types of targets," Mjalli said. "We have a very rich preclinical and clinical pipeline of our own. In the next 12 months, we will be looking at licensing opportunities on some of our compounds, because obviously as a small company we cannot take all of them to the clinical stage."

TransTech has raised about $100 million to date, including a $30 million commitment earlier this year. At that time, the company received $10 million, Mjalli said, and TransTech will receive an additional $10 million by the end of this year and the remainder next year.

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