West Coast Editor

Almost a year after netting its first collaboration with Novo Nordisk A/S, TransTech Pharma Inc. has chalked up its second - this one a multiyear deal with Cephalon Inc. to discover and develop small molecules for as many as three therapeutic targets.

"We're focusing on our internal programs, and this is the main interest, obviously, but at the same time, it turns out that our technology is flexible, scalable, and can be used literally against any biological target," said Adnan Mjalli, president and CEO of High Point, N.C.-based TransTech.

Given the right to develop and commercialize all compounds directed at each of the targets, Cephalon, of West Chester, Pa., will provide TransTech with research, clinical and commercialization milestone payments and royalties.

Mjalli characterized the deal as "quite significant" and "consistent with the Novo deal, in terms of money," but no details were disclosed for either deal.

TransTech deploys what it calls Translational Technology, which the company describes as "an automated and fully integrated drug discovery process including proprietary software modules." It's able to carry out rapid ligand synthesis, high-throughput analysis and characterization, high-throughput in vitro and in vivo testing and reiteration, and includes an informatics system.

The technology has value against a range of targets, the company said, and has come up with small-molecule preclinical drug candidates for conditions as wide-ranged as diabetes, cancer, inflammation, Alzheimer's disease and thrombosis.

Last year, TransTech signed a five-year deal with Novo, of Bagsvaerd, Denmark, to develop clinical candidates for five Novo targets. The arrangement, for which no financial terms were disclosed, later was broadened to include new diabetes targets. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 7, 2001, and Dec. 3, 2001.)

"We've been taking our time and being selective, establishing good strategic relationships that will bear fruit down the road for TransTech," Mjalli said, adding that "you'll find very little overlap between [the deals with] Novo and Cephalon and our internal programs."

In the most recently disclosed deal, Mjalli said Cephalon seemed "an ideal partner for us, in terms of research philosophy and the quality of research and targets they bring to the table."

Cephalon, focused on sleep and neurological disorders, cancer and pain, markets three products in the U.S. and 20 internationally. Mjalli told BioWorld Today that TransTech is "in discussions with a number of other companies, and we hope to finalize a couple of more late this year or early next year."

Founded in 1999, privately held TransTech has 65 employees and therapeutic programs of its own that include oncology, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system disorders, diabetes and obesity, and immunology.

"We do have a very impressive preclinical pipeline we're pursuing," Mjalli said, making particular note of the cardiovascular effort and one pairing oncology with Alzheimer's disease.

"These targets have implications in a number of areas which we validate, but moving forward we need to be selective and focused," he said. "We hope to be in the clinic early next year with the cardiovascular program," as well as the oncology program around the same time.

The Alzheimer's program could enter the clinic "side by side [with oncology] or trailing by three to four months," he said.

Cephalon's stock (NASDAQ:CEPH) closed Friday at $47.57, down $1.26.

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