Washington Editor

Enzon Inc. and Micromet AG signed a multiyear deal to combine their patents and knowledge to develop single-chain antibody therapeutics.

While Enzon, of Piscataway, N.J., and Micromet, of Munich, Germany, intend to equally share the costs of research and development, Enzon agreed to make an $8 million investment in Micromet, a privately held company.

In exchange, Enzon is expecting that Micromet will help it enter the market more quickly with new products, Kenneth Zuerblis, Enzon’s vice president of finance and chief financial officer, told BioWorld Today.

Even though Enzon acquired single-chain antibody (SCA) technology many years ago, Zuerblis said management has put most of its focus in recent years on its PEG, or polyethylene glycol, technology. “We now have research and development money, so we had to decide, Do we build our own R&D capabilities or do we find somebody already in the antibody business to leap-frog us?’” Zuerblis said. “We decided to use Micromet’s expertise and infrastructure, and clearly they are one of the leaders in the small-antibody arena, and single chains are smaller versions of antibodies.”

Therefore, the companies have agreed to spend the first 30 months working on the project from the Munich site. After 30 months, the companies will evaluate the progress and decide on a strategy for moving forward, Zuerblis said.

Twenty-five scientists will be assigned to the project, scheduled to focus on at least two clinical product candidates in therapeutic areas of common strategic interest. Uli Grau, the chief scientific officer for Enzon, would not specify which indications the companies will look at first. “We have many ideas, but at the moment we cannot discuss them,” he told BioWorld Today. Enzon has worked a lot in hematology and oncology.

The companies have agreed to equally share any revenues generated from technology licenses and commercialization of products resulting from the collaboration.

“Our collaboration with Micromet underscores Enzon’s commitment to leverage our leadership position in SCA technology and to expand our pipeline with innovative new products,” Arthur Higgins, Enzon’s chairman and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “Through this product development collaboration we have now brought together the necessary breadth of scientific expertise, broad intellectual property position and capabilities in PEG and inhalation technologies that are necessary for SCAs to become a new frontier of antibody-based therapeutics.”

Erich Felber, Micromet’s CEO, in a prepared statement said: “We are delighted to drive this major initiative, together with Enzon, to develop novel SCA therapeutics with tailor-made clinical profiles contributing significantly to our respective product pipelines. This initiative will build on our combined strengths and experience in SCA technology and Enzon’s commercially successful PEG technology.”

The collaboration also will benefit from a nonexclusive, royalty-bearing license from Enzon for PEGylated SCA products.

Enzon’s PEG technology involves chemically attaching PEG to therapeutic proteins or small molecules in order to enhance therapeutic vales. SCAs, which are versatile and can be genetically engineered to work in a many formats, combine the antigen-binding regions of antibodies on a single polypeptide chain.

There are three products on the market that use Enzon’s PEG and SCA technology. They are PEG-Intron, marketed by Schering-Plough Corp. for hepatitis C; Oncaspar for acute lymphoblastic leukemia; and Adagen, for a form of severe combined immunodeficiency disease.

Also, Enzon and Schering-Plough are conducting Phase III trials of PEG-Intron for malignant melanoma. Enzon has a multitude of alliances, including deals with Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cheshire, Conn.; Baxter Healthcare Corp., of Deerfield, Ill; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York; Eli Lilly & Co., of Indianapolis; and Aventis Pharma AG, of Frankfurt, Germany.

Meanwhile, Micromet focuses on developing antibody-based drugs for cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. The company has developed its own technology, BiTE (Bispecific T-cell engagers), a drug format that leverages the cytotoxic potential of T cells.

Enzon’s stock (NASDAQ:ENZN) closed Thursday at $39.73, down $1.64.