Caprion Pharmaceuticals Inc. is partnering its CellCarta proteomics platform in a lung cancer drug discovery collaboration with Abbott Laboratories.

The companies will work together to identify new antibody targets for the development of therapeutics for the disease. Abbott will nonexclusively evaluate a number of drug targets previously discovered by Caprion, as well as additional targets that Caprion discovers in its ongoing cell-surface, tumor-antigen, target-identification program for non-small-cell lung cancer.

"We see this as an important validation that there are still target deals to be done out there, and that they can be done at the kind of terms that are way more than standard fee-for-service agreements," Martin LeBlanc, Caprion's executive vice president and chief operating officer, told BioWorld Today. "By delivering superior and novel insights, pharmaceutical companies are willing to step up to the plate and give you the kind of value you need to have a viable business model."

He added that the deal signals a positive sign for the proteomics industry. For cancer, the Montreal-based company uses a proteomics approach called CellCarta to profile the protein complement of cells through comparisons of normal and disease conditions.

LeBlanc called Abbott an attractive partner given its commitment to antibody drug development. The Abbott Park, Ill.-based company will obtain exclusive, worldwide rights to develop and commercialize therapeutic applications for its selected targets, while Caprion will retain rights to certain other targets for pursuit of internal or partnered product development efforts.

"We think they will be very diligent and aggressive in pursuing the multiple targets our technology is suited to discover, and develop antibody drugs against them," he added. "A lot of cancer targets have been discovered, but many are for small-molecule intervention. But when it comes to highly qualified novel targets for antibody drugs, there's a scarcer supply."

A company in Abbott's shoes would turn to Caprion, LeBlanc said, given Caprion's ability to discover new and non-patented, tumor-antigen targets. Its technology isolates epithelial plasma membranes from surgical tissue to compare proteins from normal and diseased samples from 30 to 40 patients.

"Caprion already has done quite a bit of that work, and we have generated some targets from an initial subset of those 30 to 40 patients," he said. "So part of the attractiveness to Abbott is that from the start of this alliance, they are able to evaluate an initial pool of interesting targets that subsequently will be further validated by the rest of the program."

Financially, the agreement includes a standard funding schedule for privately held Caprion, including up-front and milestone payments, as well as royalty payments from future product sales by Abbott. More specific financial terms were not disclosed, though LeBlanc characterized the up-front payment as significant. He also labeled near- and medium-term milestone payments and royalty rates commensurate with the development stage of the targets.

The Abbott agreement follows a colorectal cancer target-discovery partnership with Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen Idec Inc., which began in September 2002. Started as a proteomics business in 2001, Caprion also has biomarker discovery deals with three other large partners - Wyeth, of Madison, N.J.; AstraZeneca plc, of London; and Merck & Co. Inc., of Whitehouse Station, N.J. As a result of its collaborative work, Caprion is beginning to manage lung and colon cancer assets that stem from its platform.

"We are now contemplating starting in parallel some of our own drug discovery efforts," LeBlanc said, "or at least maturing some of these targets further forward such that we can license them out for additional risk-reward benefits, or to push them all the way into the clinic. It's a strategic goal for Caprion to diversify downstream."