Washington Editor

Enanta Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Chiron Corp. entered a deal to develop therapeutics for the hepatitis C virus using Enanta's chemistry expertise.

The agreement calls for Watertown, Mass.-based Enanta, founded in 1998, to apply its macrocyclic and medicinal chemistry technology to the design and synthesis of enzymes involved in the replication of the hepatitis C virus.

"We will apply a number of scientists, primarily chemists, to the program and our job will be to identify lead compounds that are patentable and that meet certain criteria of activity," Spiros Jamas, president and CEO of Enanta, told BioWorld Today.

Chiron, of Emeryville, Calif., will grant Enanta a nonexclusive license to some of its HCV patents.

"Chiron holds a broad patent position on HCV-related targets and Enanta has very strong chemistry expertise and a strong team in place," Jamas said. "We had initiated an HCV discovery platform that led to some compounds with very attractive structures, so there was a very good fit to collaborate with Chiron where we could really get a license to their HCV patents and also get the benefit of many years of knowledge Chiron has gained working in this area."

Enanta said the research would involve the synthesis of compounds, structure-based drug design and testing in enzyme assays, whole cell assays and animal models.

While Jamas would not address specifics in reference to the financial part of the deal, he said Chiron would provide Enanta with research funding as well as license fees, and potentially pay development-based milestone fees and royalties on future product sales. Chiron retains an exclusive worldwide license to any HCV compounds that are developed out of the research.

Chiron could not be reach for comment.

For Enanta, whose work focuses on deriving new chemical entities from existing drugs, the Chiron agreement has significant meaning because it represents the company's first collaboration, Jamas said. However, it is not likely to be the last.

"We would like to identify partners that have a strong patent position on a given target," he said. "So we plan to do additional deals where we would apply our chemistry to identify novel compounds that can be taken forward in development where we would retain certain ownership and rights to these compounds," he said.

Enanta has raised $43 million in its four-year history, including an $18 million first closing in June of a round expected to have its final closing this fall. In July 2000, the company raised $20 million to help fund its Peptide Morphing system, which Enanta describes as breakthrough technology that replaces one or more central bonds within a peptide with stereochemically distinct derivatives. (See BioWorld Today, July 31, 2000.)

Chiron's stock (NASDAQ:CHIR) rose $1.33 Wednesday to close at $37.53.