Infinity Pharmaceuticals Inc. signed Amgen Inc. to a deal in which biotechnology's top company bought $25 million worth of Infinity stock in return for nonexclusive access to a collection of small molecules.

Amgen will make additional payments, which might include success-based compensation and research funding. Infinity also is entitled to milestones related to preclinical and clinical development, and would receive royalties on certain product sales. What Amgen gets is three years of nonexclusive access to Infinity's collection of small molecules that Amgen can screen against multiple targets to identify drug leads.

Infinity, of Cambridge, Mass., has been working toward a deal of this nature since it was founded in 2001, in part by Steven Holtzman, the current CEO, president and chairman, who previously worked as chief business officer at Cambridge, Mass.-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Its next big event was a $70 million Series B round - the largest funding by a private company in 2002, according to BioWorld Snapshots. With the addition of the Amgen deal as a feather in its biotech cap, young Infinity's headgear is looking good. (See BioWorld Today, June 25, 2002.)

And it's all according to plan, said Adelene Perkins, chief business officer at Infinity.

After the company's founding, officials considered how best to grow and mapped a route that called for the large Series B round.

"There was a clear sense that to do this right, we needed to be very well capitalized from the beginning," Perkins told BioWorld Today. "In 2002, the plan was not to begin partnering right away, but to raise money and build the platform, then subsequently partner."

So, Infinity gathered its Series B round, dropped its head and went to work. When the compound collection was where the company wanted it, Infinity "went to a select group who we believed were ready to make a commitment to a different way of drug discovery," Perkins said. That group included Amgen.

The $25 million equity investment gives Amgen a stake of between 10 percent and 15 percent in Infinity - large enough to be notable, but "not our largest shareholder," Perkins said.

What jumps out is the nonexclusivity - Amgen was willing to give up $25 million for access to a collection of small molecules to which others might also have access. That's the way Infinity prefers to structure its agreements, and other similar deals are expected to follow.

In the 1980s, biotech companies "gave away their crown jewel" in partnering deals, Perkins said. The '90s, which Perkins called "the genomics and platform era," brought about "almost a fee-for-service" aspect to collaborations, in which companies got plenty of money but spent their effort and time working for the partner.

"What we are adopting is a hybrid," Perkins said. "Platform companies have fallen out of favor since then, but what we are saying is, They shouldn't have fallen out of favor as much as they have.'"

Infinity realizes the need to bring in revenue from its platform, she said. It also understands that in what's been called the "post-genomics" era, a company without products often is punished by investors - or lack thereof. Knowing that, Infinity's hybrid theory is aimed at partnering for revenue while still chasing its own pipeline dreams - the company is focused on cancer therapeutics and expects to begin its first clinical trials in 2005. Researchers are examining how cancer cells, which are by definition defective, still are able to survive and avoid apoptosis. The company is studying "how we can intervene in those pathways that allow cancer cells to survive," Perkins said.

While there are potential payments down the road for Infinity through the Amgen deal, "what is going to drive our value is the up-front payment that will allow us to pursue our own drug discovery," Perkins said. The Series B round was expected to be enough to finance the company through 2005, and Amgen's investment moves any need for cash further back. If things go well, there won't be a Series C, as Infinity plans to "do one or two additional Amgen-type deals" to bring in more funds, but the company will not sign unlimited partners.

"We recognize that [the platform] is more valuable if it is held by a small group of people," Perkins said.

And though Amgen has certain options and might ask for Infinity's assistance in the collaboration, any work done would be "a very small portion of the overall deal," Perkins said, meaning that Infinity's man hours will be free to push its own research and continue to build its small-molecule collection.

With a sizable Series B and the Amgen deal done, Perkins said 2004 "is now about focusing on our own drug discovery. And we are excited about this new platform model that we haven't seen before."