National Editor

You might have seen it coming.

Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s deal with Archemix Corp. for aptamers targeting ophthalmic indications teams two firms that, years ago, each took some of the Selex technology offered by Gilead Sciences Inc.

New York-based Eyetech licensed the aptamer Macugen (pegaptanib sodium) in April 2000, and since has turned the drug into a potential blockbuster for age-related macular degeneration. The company expects to file a new drug application in the third quarter.

"In 2001, we got everything else [of Selex]," said Errol De Souza, president and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Archemix, noting that the intellectual property estate related to aptamers amounts to 170 issued patents and an equal number pending.

Now, Eyetech and Archemix are joining forces, with the Selex process - an in vitro combinatorial chemistry technique - at the center of the agreement.

Eyetech's stock (NASDAQ:EYET) closed Wednesday at $33.24, up $1.70.

Under the terms, Eyetech is responsible for all clinical development and gets the right to commercialize aptamers in the deal for ophthalmologic indications. Archemix gets an undisclosed up-front payment from Eyetech, plus payments for research and development milestones, along with royalties.

Details were not disclosed, but the distribution of payments is "very balanced" between the front and back end of the deal, De Souza said.

"It will be a joint collaboration, from target to candidate," he told BioWorld Today. In working with aptamers, that span of time is not necessarily long.

"Our cycle time from target to lead is nine months, and lead to candidate is about nine months," he said. Compare that with the cycle time for small molecules, which is "36 months if you're really good and lucky" to 48 months if you're not, De Souza said.

"Within the first month of going through this [Selex] process, we know whether we've got a high-affinity lead, so we don't have to make lots of investments until we know we have something worthy of investing in," he added. The lead for Macugen, for example, was identified around 1997, and Eyetech already was talking about Phase III data in 2003.

Tony Adamis, chief scientific officer for Eyetech, said the Archemix deal "takes us one big step forward to becoming a fully integrated company. There aren't a lot of aptamers out there. Macugen's going to be the first one, we hope, to be approved."

Aptamers are single-stranded nucleic acids that form 3-dimensional shapes, binding target molecules in a manner that is conceptually similar to antibodies - but better, Adamis said.

"They have the best features of small molecules, but they behave like large molecules, [binding] more specifically," he told BioWorld Today. And they have few of the drawbacks of small molecules, such as immunogenicity or toxicity. They are highly stable molecules and are chemically synthesized.

"They don't require $300 million plants to make," he said.

The smallness of the aptamer world is largely due to the patent lockup by privately held Archemix, which Adamis described as "the general in an army of one." Another company in the space is SomaLogic Inc., of Boulder, Colo., which uses aptamers in diagnostics.

Said De Souza: "We're very familiar with SomaLogic, because we've got a deal with them."

In therapeutics, Archemix is focused on cancer, inflammation and cardiovascular diseases. Its first compound, the thrombin inhibitor ARC 183, is expected to enter the clinic next year. Two more will be selected this year, with leaders in the pool being a complement inhibitor for inflammation and cardiovascular disorders, and an oncology drug.

The latter is characterized as a "very potent" platelet-derived growth factor B inhibitor to boost cytotoxic agents, and De Souza said the initial focus might be in colorectal cancer as part of a "one-two punch with Avastin [bevacizumab]," from South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc.

"It would be given about the same time as the cytotoxic [agent]," he said.

Archemix last week raised $50 million in a Series B financing, enough to operate into early 2007. The terms of the Eyetech deal allow Archemix to propose future aptamers discovered outside of the collaboration for inclusion in the ophthalmic program. (See BioWorld Today, April 7, 2004.)

Eyetech, in making the deal with Archemix, adds another feather to its cap. The firm went public in February, selling 6.5 million shares at $21 each to raise $136.5 million, and stocks soared more than 54 percent in the first day of trading.

David Guyer, Eyetech's CEO, said Wednesday that the IPO and the continued good performance by the stock proves that Wall Street values three things: positive Phase III data, a drug for a large unmet medical need and a partnership with a large pharmaceutical company such as Pfizer Inc., of New York.

"We were fortunate, in that we had all three," he said.