BioWorld International Correspondent

Announcing its second deal this week, Galapagos Genomics NV formed a discovery alliance with Wyeth in osteoporosis that could bring the Belgian firm $40 million.

Through the agreement, Wyeth, of Madison, N.J., obtains an exclusive option to license bone-formation drug targets that Galapagos identifies, in return paying an undisclosed up-front fee and research funding. Galapagos could also receive more than $40 million as it hits milestones related to licensing, development and commercialization.

"We will deliver novel drug targets into Wyeth's compound screening programs within months," said Onno van de Stolpe, Galapagos' CEO.

Van de Stolpe told BioWorld Today he is optimistic about concluding further deals with big pharma companies based on Galapagos' SilenceSelect platform, notably in diabetes and cardiovascular conditions, areas in which the technology is particularly suited to design-led identification of likely targets for drug development.

Galapagos announced Nov. 11 a deal with Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, of Ingelheim, Germany, for Boehringer to use Galapagos' SilenceSelect gene knockdown platform. Although financial terms of that deal were not disclosed, the company classified the funding as significant.

Mechelen, Belgium-based Galapagos' adenoviral-based approach to gene silencing through mRNA degradation overcomes some of the limitations of approaches based on double-stranded small interfering RNA reagents or plasmid based vectors, the company said. It now has virtually completed its collection of about 4,000 adenoviruses, said van de Stolpe, but added that "we don't have the size to fully exploit the technology ourselves."

Galapagos employs about 90 people and van de Stolpe said the company's spending is kept at prudent levels.

"We have a burn rate of about $5 million a year - not bad for a company with that many staff," he said. But he already is looking ahead to the next stages in Galapagos' evolution, conscious that even the best platform is never going to be the way to make shareholders rich.

"We have to move downstream from targets to products," he said. "Platforms eventually become commodities."

His company derives some advantages from its location in Europe, he said.

"The scientific quality here is equal to the U.S., and we have had good grants from the governments of Belgium and the Netherlands," he said. And as a pure pharma company, Galapagos is not caught up in the European negative sentiment over GM crops or transgenic animals, he added. However, there are disadvantages.

"A minus is the lack of venture capital in Europe," he said. "And your people are working outside the biotech hotspots. It's easier to deal with big pharma if you are in the U.S., where you use the same language and the same legal system."

Even so, he said Galapagos "can compete worldwide. SilenceSelect is class technology, and Wyeth didn't do a deal with us just because they like us."