Washington Editor

In the first deal related to its ExoPep technology, Theratechnologies Inc. signed a licensing and research agreement with Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development LLC surrounding a therapeutic peptide in the field of diabetes.

Officials at Theratechnologies, of Montreal, refused to release any specific financial terms of the deal. However, they said Theratechnologies has received an up-front payment, and is scheduled to receive research and regulatory milestones as well as royalties should a product emerge from the research. Development and marketing activities will be handled by La Jolla, Calif.-based J&J Pharmaceutical Research & Development.

For Theratechnologies, the deal is of particular significance because it said it validates the company's decision three years ago to acquire Pharma-G, a private company that developed ExoPep technology and was acquired for about C$7.5 million in stock. Theratechnologies had its eye on ExoPep, a drug discovery platform designed to allow rapid design of peptide compounds that interact with G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).

"Through the platform, we saw the ability to readily discover drug candidates that would help us build our franchise, and this is exactly what has happened in less than three years," Luc Tanguay, Theratechnologies' president and CEO, said in a conference call Thursday. "We have established several discovery projects in endocrinology and metabolism using the ExoPep platform. All of these are potential development projects for the Theratechnologies platform.

"However, we can deliver much more," he said. "The agreement we are announcing today demonstrates how we can leverage our technology to build relationships with major players in the pharmaceutical industry."

In the deal, Theratechnologies will be responsible for finding the lead candidate, then turning it over to J&J for further development, Peter McBride, Theratechnologies' vice president of public affairs, told BioWorld Today.

Using ExoPep, McBride said Theratechnologies has the ability to discover peptides very quickly, so it's possible that the company could enter other deals similar to the J&J agreement in order to "maximize the value of [the platform]."

Approximately 60 percent of all currently available prescription drugs interact with GPCRs, the company said. Peptides derived from ExoPep comprise on average 5 to 12 amino acids and act on GPCRs by blocking signal transduction.

Theratechnologies' stock (TSE:TH) closed Thursday at C$6, up C45 cents.