Celltech Group plc and Seattle Genetics Inc. entered into a multiyear research collaboration to use Seattle Genetics’ antibody-drug conjugate technology with Celltech’s antibody fragments, initially for immunological targets.

The collaboration could mean as much as $30 million for Seattle Genetics, of Bothell, Wash., which will receive an up-front technology access fee and potential milestone payments. Celltech also will pay research fees, reagent fees and royalties to Seattle Genetics.

“It’s an extension of our access to technology for our antibody platform,” said Melanie Lee, director of research and development at Celltech. “It gives us access to linkers and cell cytotoxic agents [and] it enables us to use a cell-killing strategy with antibodies.”

Seattle Genetics has a series of patented chemical linkers and cytotoxic agents that can be used to attach to antibodies Celltech’s main therapeutic entities, Lee said. She said the company’s “immediate thoughts” are to use this for cell oblation in immunological diseases.

“[For example], if you have a disease that is driven by activated T cells, then it is possible a strategy might be to target activated T cells to stop disease progression,” she said.

Under the agreement, Celltech, of Slough, UK, will make the antibodies, and Seattle Genetics will perform the conjugation additions. Celltech will then do preclinical validation of entities, and ultimately, Celltech will use the technology to develop therapeutic antibody fragments linked to Seattle Genetics’ toxic payloads to target and kill diseased cells.

“It’s a very important addition to our antibody tool kit for maximizing the design of therapeutics of the future,” Lee said of the conjugate technology.

Lee said the focus may naturally lead from immunological targets to a focus on cancer. Although she declined to give the defined length of time for the collaboration, Lee said it could be expected to produce product candidates for clinical trials in three to five years.

For Seattle Genetics, it is the second collaboration of this type, and Clay Siegall, president and chief scientific officer at Seattle Genetics, said he hopes his company can do more. In June, the company entered a license agreement with Eos Biotechnology Inc., of South San Francisco, to target cancer. In that instance, too, Seattle is providing access to its classes of cell-killing drugs and its chemical linkers. The deal called for an undisclosed number of antibodies to which Eos could attach the payloads. Financial terms of that agreement were not disclosed.(See BioWorld Today, June 6, 2001.)

Siegall noted that the company has a two-pronged business strategy: internal drug discovery and technology licensing. Siegall said the company is in discussions with “a number of very strong companies in the mAB space” for technology licensing.

Siegall said Seattle Genetics could provide the technology to multiple companies because it is done on an antigen-by-antigen basis.

Seattle Genetics’ stock (NASDAQ: SGEN) rose 33 cents to close at $5.25 on Thursday.