Washington Editor

Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. on Thursday said it will invest $20 million in Genmab A/S as part of an agreement to expand a year-old deal between the companies that ultimately could be worth $100 million.

Little more than a year ago, the companies entered a broad collaboration whereby Genmab, of Copenhagen, Denmark, signed on to create and develop human antibody therapeutics for Roche using the UltiMAb platform technology licensed from Medarex Inc., of Princeton, N.J. The expanded project involves a number of new disease targets.

"Roche was very satisfied with the work that Genmab was doing for them," Lisa Drakeman, Genmab's CEO, told BioWorld Today. "In addition to that, Roche decided to focus more on protein therapeutics, so we had this nice combination of them deciding that they would like a number of additional antibody programs, and feeling that Genmab was a really good collaborator for them. They feel they can count on us and they like the work we did and the way we work together."

The program is being coordinated by Roche's proteomics group and focuses on developing biologics.

"Our alliance with Genmab has the potential to significantly strengthen our position in this important field. We are pleased to further expand our global programs to create and develop important new antibody medicines with Genmab as an important partner," Jonathan Knowles, Roche's head of Global Pharmaceutical Research, said in a prepared statement.

Financially, Drakeman said Roche's $20 million equity investment gives the Swiss company 880,100 shares, or 3.87 percent of Genmab's outstanding stock. Medarex owns 32.5 percent of Genmab.

Thursday's agreement marks Roche's first equity investment in Genmab, Drakeman said. In the deal signed a year ago, Roche did not make an up-front payment. "I can't really comment on the milestones and royalties on the initial agreement, but obviously there are no products on the market, so this is the first major cash infusion by Roche," he said.

If all goals are reached in the agreement scheduled to run another four years, it could mean upward of $100 million for Genmab. Specifically, the expanded collaboration, similar to the first deal, gives Genmab potential milestones as well as royalty payments on successful products. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, Genmab could obtain rights to develop products based on disease targets identified by Roche.

Genmab will use the $20 million investment for expenses related to the deal, including hiring an additional seven or eight employees to work on the program, and for general corporate purposes. (Genmab employs a total of about 150 people in its three offices located in Copenhagen, the Netherlands and Princeton.)

Regarding the creation and development of antibodies, Drakeman said there's no real difference in that than in the earlier one. "The difference is that expectations of the use of the collaboration have changed so much that Roche is making the large equity investment and also announcing that it will be putting in probably 15 new targets in the coming year.

"The collaboration is very broad in the sense that research groups from all over Roche were involved in selecting the group of targets and it will range broadly across any and all disease areas," she said. "We just make our selection on a target-by-target basis, so it's not as if we say, Let's go work in this particular disease area.'"

Genmab also continues development of it monoclonal antibody, HuMax-CD4, a rheumatoid arthritis product in Phase III studies. Drakeman said the company hopes to file for FDA approval in early 2004. The FDA has granted HuMax-CD4 fast-track status.

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