Washington Editor

Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. and CuraGen Corp. signed a multiyear drug target and validation agreement focused on oncology products.

While the initial focus will be cancer, the collaboration could be expanded to other indications down the road, Stephen Squinto, executive vice president and head of research for Cheshire, Conn.-based Alexion, told BioWorld Today. The companies have identified certain cancers to study but are not being specific about them at this time.

The deal, scheduled for annual renewal, will begin with Alexion selecting certain biological material of interest. “In this case, we will probably choose tumor cells and provide that material to CuraGen,” Squinto said. “CuraGen will use its portfolio technologies to define new targets in that tissue source.”

And from that research, if CuraGen identifies targets of interest, “we will have the opportunity to get a license to that target,” Squinto said. “Then Alexion will use its proprietary antibody technology to find antibody-based drugs to that target.”

Squinto would not release specific financial details, but referred questions to a prepared statement saying CuraGen will retain rights to potential non-antibody protein therapeutics across all disease areas. Alexion will own the rights to develop and commercialize all antibody and small-molecule therapeutics against drug targets across all disease areas, and CuraGen will be eligible to receive licensing fees, development milestone payments and sales royalties from Alexion on pharmaceutical products stemming from the alliance.

Alexion will use its CoALT antibody discovery platform, developed by its wholly owned subsidiary, Alexion Antibody Technologies, to validate the targets.

“Alexion’s respected CoALT platform will complement CuraGen’s functional genomic technologies in the discovery and validation of novel drug targets,” Christopher McLeod, executive vice president for CuraGen, said in a prepared statement. “Alexion scientists will select novel antibody targets to feed their growing antibody therapeutic pipeline, while CuraGen scientists will select novel proteins we would not otherwise identify to enhance our existing protein therapeutics pipeline.”

CuraGen officials could not be reached for comment.

For Alexion, the agreement means something else. “It gives use an opportunity to really fully exploit our antibody discovery technology and to move the company aggressively in a different direction in terms of drug development, meaning that we will really amplify our focus on using antibodies in the oncology setting,” Squinto said.

In other business at Alexion, enrollment is under way in a 3,000-patient Phase III trial of pexelizumab in cardiopulmonary bypass patients. Pexelizumab, formerly known as 5G1.1-SC, an anti-inflammatory C5 inhibitor monoclonal antibody fragment, is being developed in collaboration with Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, an affiliate of Procter & Gamble Co., of Cincinnati. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 14, 2001; Dec. 13, 2001; and Jan. 8, 2002.)

Alexion also has started a Phase IIb trial of 5G1.1, a humanized monoclonal antibody C5 complement inhibitor, in rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Meanwhile, CuraGen, a genomics-based drug discovery and development company, earlier this year said it completed screening against four targets in a $1.4 billion deal with Bayer Corp. focused on developing 12 drugs for obesity and diabetes. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 17, 2001, and Feb. 1, 2002.)

Alexion’s stock (NASDAQ:ALXN) closed Tuesday at $23.07, down 69 cents, while CuraGen’s (NASDAQ:CRGN) closed at $17.41, down 51 cents.