Washington Editor

Neuronyx Inc. entered a collaboration with Centocor Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, to develop cardiovascular therapies based on stem cells.

But it isn't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill deal.

The agreement involves research using adult stem cells, said Neuronyx's President and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Webster, and such deals are not commonplace.

"I think this agreement is a great validation of the utility of adult-derived stem cells and I think it is one of the first forays by a large pharmaceutical company in a long, long, time into a collaboration in the stem cell field," Webster told BioWorld Today.

Another unique feature is that Neuronyx was founded about two years ago by Hubert Schoemaker, the same person who formed Centocor and sold it to J&J in 1999 for $4.9 billion. Schoemaker reportedly left the deal with $28 million in Johnson & Johnson stock. (See BioWorld Today Special Bulletin, July 21, 1999.)

Located in Malvern, Pa., Neuronyx derives stem cells from adult bone marrow. "We have some unique capabilities to grow large homogenous populations of pharmaceutical-grade stem cells, and that is one of the hallmarks of Neuronyx," Webster said.

Schoemaker, now chairman and CEO of Neuronyx, said in a prepared statement, "We believe these cells have the potential to improve cardiovascular outcomes following acute injury, such as myocardial infarction, as well as chronic indications, such as congestive heart failure, by facilitating the generation of new heart muscle or by replacing damaged cardiac tissue."

The companies will conduct collaborative research, with Malvern, Pa.-based Centocor ultimately assuming responsibility for development and commercialization.

Webster explained that Neuronyx would manufacture the adult bone marrow-derived cells for all phases of the collaboration.

While Webster wasn't at liberty to discuss financial arrangements, he said Neuronyx will receive an up-front payment and research support. Furthermore, Neuronyx is entitled to milestone payments based on certain regulatory events.

Regarding Neuronyx's stem cell experience, Webster said, "We are quite pleased with our ability to grow the adult bone marrow stem cells and we're actually quite comfortable with the plasticity of these cells to be able to turn them into different tissue types."

He said there is a growing belief in the science community that adult-derived cells might have as much utility as embryonic and fetal-sourced cells. "We think there are a lot of advantages to using adult stem cells and we are not working with them to avoid political and ethical issues. We think they are more than sufficient to address most of the indications that people are looking at embryonic and fetal cells for," he said.

"One of the limiting steps in the development of adult-derived cells is that people couldn't get enough of them, and we now have this robust ability to grow exceedingly large populations of adult-derived stem cells," Webster added.

The Centocor deal is Neuronyx's second collaboration. The company's first agreement was signed two years ago with Horsham, Pa.-based Neose Technologies Inc. to develop drugs for Parkinson's disease and other neurological diseases. Webster said that collaboration is progressing well, and that "we have identified several intriguing compounds." The research was scheduled to initially focus on the modification of certain glycolipid compounds with clinical promise in stopping the progression of Parkinson's disease symptoms. (See BioWorld Today, June 14, 2000.)

Neuronyx, which employs 42 people, raised $12.8 million in its Series A financing, completed in December 2000.

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