Washington Editor

Agensys Inc. could earn more than $90 million through an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with Genentech Inc.

Agensys licensed research, development and commercialization rights to therapeutic and diagnostic products surrounding two cancer targets to Genentech, of South San Francisco. As part of the agreement, Genentech also acquired rights to certain monoclonal antibodies developed at Agensys and has agreed to provide Agensys with financial incentives to collaborate on developing additional antibodies to both targets, which then would fall under the license.

"This is a very important milestone for the company," Donald Rice, chairman, president and CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Agensys, told BioWorld Today. "[Having] Genentech come to us to license two of our proprietary targets and to take advantage of our antibody-generation capability recognizes the two main features of our own program."

Founded in 1997, Agensys opened it doors as a target discovery and validation business that eventually transitioned into a product development firm in the antibody field, Rice said. Company scientists are developing a pipeline of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies to treat solid tumors.

Indeed, Agensys' antibodies, many of which are fully human, are being generated to a diverse portfolio of cancer targets that encompass 14 types of solid tumors. Through a deal with Abgenix Inc., of Fremont, Calif., Agensys has access to XenoMouse technologies required to generate fully human antibodies.

Meanwhile, Agensys is working on partnerships, like the Genentech deal, to develop and commercialize products.

Successful development and launch of antibody products to each target in the Genentech deal would trigger milestone payments that could exceed $90 million. Agensys also would receive royalties on the sales of therapeutic products and a share of the profits from diagnostic products.

While specific amounts were undisclosed, the deal also includes an up-front cash payment and an equity investment in Agensys preferred stock, said Rice, who described each payment as "seven figures."

Beyond that, subsequent development of non-antibody products would prompt additional comparable milestone and royalty payments. Genentech will be responsible for the development and commercialization of all therapeutic and associated diagnostic products, except for vaccine products and certain diagnostic applications to which Agensys retained rights.

This is the second deal signed between the firms. The first, signed back in July 2000, was valued at $33 million for Agensys, which licensed rights to prostate stem cell antigens to Genentech.

Agensys received payments in the "low millions" on that deal, Rice said, adding that Genentech returned the target about two years ago when it rearranged some of its priorities.

The prostate stem cell antigen, however, continues to be a frontline development program at Agensys, Rice said.

About two years ago Agensys raised $42.8 million in a private financing. Rice said the firm currently is in a good cash position and has the funds to carry it well into 2005. Next year he anticipates raising additional funds either through new partnerships or another financing.

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