With the intent to develop antibody products for autoimmune diseases and other indications, Diversa Corp. licensed XOMA Ltd.'s antibody expression technology. It also disclosed it had signed a license deal with Paris-based Cellectis SA, a genome engineering company.

San Diego-based Diversa plans to develop antibody products independently and with collaborators, and it has the option to a license to produce antibodies under the XOMA patents. Although specific financial terms were not disclosed, Berkeley, Calif.-based XOMA will receive a license fee and potential milestone and royalty payments as part of the agreement.

The companies also will work together to discover and develop antibodies for autoimmune-related diseases. In that phase of their agreement, Diversa will receive research funding and is entitled to milestones and royalties.

Juan Estruch, Diversa's senior director of strategic business development, said the money going from Diversa to XOMA would be marginal, and does not interfere with Diversa's business model. However, the money going from XOMA to Diversa is "far more substantial," he told BioWorld Today, "because they know the antibodies they might get are truly superior in nature."

The collaboration involves XOMA's Bacterial Cell Expression System that enables companies to produce antibodies in bacteria. More than 25 companies hold a license for the technology for the expression of molecules in bacteria.

Diversa's Antibody Building System is designed to deliver antibodies against challenging targets and improving suboptimal antibodies. Diversa uses its synthetic antibody library of more than 1 billion clones as a basis for generating the antibodies, a process that attracted XOMA, Estruch said.

"They realize that [other] libraries have certain limitations in some of the most challenging targets they have," he said. "They realize that the new approach by Diversa offers them a far more robust way to discover and develop superior antibodies."

Diversa also has its Medicinal Evolution capabilities, used to engineer antibodies to meet specific criteria, such as stability, solubility and affinity.

A XOMA spokesperson declined to comment beyond what was stated in a press release from the company's CEO, John Castello, who called the exchange of technology resources valuable for both companies.

Diversa already has started a project as part of the collaboration in the autoimmune disease area. It could later be expanded to include additional targets involving other therapeutic areas, Estruch said.

In a second agreement, Diversa gained nonexclusive research rights to meganuclease I-Sce1, a rare, natural endonuclease used to induce a double-strand break in the genome of a host organism. The technology, patented by Cellectis, will be used in different strains of microorganisms in order to improve the functionality of the production hosts.

"Diversa actually engages in a whole genomic scale of optimization," Estruch said. "When you do that you need very precise tools in order to modify a specific region of the genome."

The research license could lead to a commercial license if Diversa exercises an option. The companies did not disclose financial terms.

According to a statement by Isabelle Pelletier-Bressac, vice president of business development at Cellectis, I-Sce1 is the gold standard for meganuclease site-directed, induced recombination. The technology, she said, "can help to reduce the cost of production and improve the quality of pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products obtained from engineered microorganisms."

Cellectis, founded in 1999 as a spin-off from the Institut Pasteur, has more than 20 deals for use of its technologies, covering applications such as animal models, protein production and agricultural crops improvement.

Diversa's stock (NASDAQ:DVSA) rose 14 cents Tuesday to close at $9.63.