National Editor

Coming out of the genomics era not just a survivor but a "thriver," Iconix Pharmaceuticals Inc. signed two deals - one with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. worth up to $24 million and one with Abbott Laboratories with undisclosed financial terms.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Iconix nailed down "eight to 10" deals last year, but none were the size of the most recently disclosed pair, said Jim Neal, Iconix's CEO.

"We've certainly turned a corner," he said, adding that the new deals "have some common pieces," but are not identical. Both are four-year agreements.

From New York-based Bristol-Myers, Iconix gets an up-front payment, technology license fees, special project fees and potential payments based on commercialization events.

Bristol-Myers will access Iconix's DrugMatrix chemogenomics system, which comprises information on the genomic effects of drug and chemical treatments, along with its library of Drug Signatures - more than 200 sets of genes that serve as genomic biomarkers for the prediction of the potential toxicological, mechanistic and side effect profiles of a drug candidate. The deal calls for Iconix to work on several Bristol-Myers projects involving the latter's compounds.

"They may have a situation where they don't fully understand toxicity around a compound or series, and they've reserved some capacity to do some deep dives' on special projects," Neal said. If the arrangement pans out completely for Iconix, the total payments (excluding commercialization fees and royalties) would be $24 million.

Abbott Park, Ill.-based Abbott's deal is similar, but "they want to build the in vitro portion of a toxicogenomic data set," Neal said. "We know a little bit more how to do the BMS stuff, though it's no less challenging because biology doesn't always unfold for you like you hope."

Even without surprises, the in vitro effort is "a bit more complicated," he said. "There's been some work done in the past that met with mixed results. It's all about scale and doing it in a rigorous scientific fashion. It ends up to be biomarkers, but you're still asking the fundamental question, If I can extract a gene-expression profile from a compound-treated cell, what does that gene expression mean? How can I interpret that?'"

Iconix was spun out of the antimicrobials firm Microcide Pharmaceuticals Inc., also of Mountain View, six years ago as a genomics firm. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 20, 1998.)

"Some of the same concepts were involved, but we got started on the chemogenomics approach that we have really capitalized on about three years ago," Neal said.

"We speak in terms that make sense to drug companies," he told BioWorld Today. "What we're talking about has the word chemo' in it for a reason.

"There's a lot of hoopla around targets and target validation and so forth, but that's still a very long way from a drug."

Privately held Iconix works at "a critical pinch point as [companies] make big investment decisions" regarding whether a compound is worth moving forward or is too risky. "As we all know, at the end of the day our track record as an industry is not very good," he added.

Iconix is well funded, Neal said.

"I'd never say we're out of the woods but I'd definitely say we have some runway," he said. "If we'd had more money a year ago, I'm not sure we would have known what to do with it."

He described the current cash supply as plentiful enough for "multiple years. We can go a long time."

Legal adviser for Iconix in both deals was Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, with partner Brian Burr from the Menlo Park, Calif., office leading the team.