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Deal-maker ZymoGenetics Inc. nailed down another one, this time a licensing agreement with Wyeth for a pair of patent applications related to the interleukin-13 receptor subunit, or IL-13R alpha2 (also known as WSX-II), a novel cytokine receptor related to others involved in regulating the immune system.

"IL-13R alpha2 is actually a decoy receptor, and one could speculate that you could make a soluble form and use it to mop up IL-13," said Charles Hart, senior director of corporate communications and investor relations for ZymoGenetics. "It's analogous to what Enbrel does to [tumor necrosis factor]."

Enbrel (etanercept) is Seattle-based Immunex Corp.'s blockbuster anti-TNF drug for rheumatoid arthritis.

Under the terms of the agreement, Wyeth paid an undisclosed assignment fee to ZymoGenetics for the two patent applications.

"I would say this is a more substantial deal than some of the technology deals we've put in place recently," Hart told BioWorld Today. "The terms would be commensurate with what one would expect in licensing a patented gene."

Not only that, but an outside inspector checked Wyeth's own patents and patent applications covering IL-13R alpha2 and determined that ZymoGenetics had priority of invention.

"It was a third-party attorney," Hart said. "That was part of the agreement." The finding led Wyeth to make another payment, also undisclosed, and agree to the potential for more later, depending on milestones "throughout development," which Wyeth will handle, Hart said. ZymoGenetics is in line for royalties, too, under the deal.

IL-13R alpha2 was found by using bioinformatics techniques to search through the databases of human DNA sequences, and is believed to be a naturally occurring decoy receptor, which can bind IL-13 without transmitting a signal to the inside of the cell - which means it might be useful as a therapeutic antagonist to inhibit IL-13-mediated conditions such as asthma and hay fever (See BioWorld Today, July 3, 2002, and Dec. 13, 1998.)

Its intellectual property portfolio has bagged ZymoGenetics a number of deals, most recently making headlines with progress in its licensing arrangement with Nashville, Tenn.-based BioMimetic Pharmaceuticals Inc. for the development of platelet-derived growth factor for the treatment of periodontal disease. Pivotal studies have begun. (See BioWorld Today, May 30, 2002.)

ZymoGenetics also has a deal with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Tarrytown, N.Y., granting a license to ZymoGenetics' immunoglobulin-fusion protein technology; a deal with Arriva Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Alameda, Calif., granting a license for the production of alpha 1-antitrypsin in yeast for use against hereditary emphysema; a co-development and commercialization agreement with Serono SA, of Geneva, focused on the tumor necrosis factor receptor protein TACI-Ig for autoimmune disease; and an option and license agreement with Novo Nordisk A/S, of Copenhagen, Denmark, for discovery of therapeutic proteins.

They're all part of ZymoGenetics' strategy of making certain it's "able to generate intellectual property, protect it and commercialize it," Hart said. "We believe we've made more discoveries than we're going to be able to develop internally."

ZymoGenetics' stock (NASDAQ:ZGEN) gained 21 cents Monday to close at $6.71.

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