West Coast Editor

NEW YORK - Partners matter. But products matter more, and the one can be used to reach the other, said Donald Drakeman, president and CEO of Medarex Inc., the transgenic mouse company with “about four dozen” collaborators.

“We set out to become the No. 1 partnering company in the biotech industry,” he said, adding that the Princeton, N.J.-based firm has “most of the major pharmaceutical companies, most of the major biotechnology companies and many others” among its partners.

Armed with resources from the mouse deals, Medarex’s goal is “to become the No. 1 pipeline company,” Drakeman told an audience Thursday at the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s fourth annual BIO CEO & Investor Conference here.

“We’re focusing on filing 10 [investigational new drug applications] by the end of this year and to continue that rate going forward,” he said. Drakeman spoke during an investor session called “The Biotech Mosaic: Putting the Pieces in Place.”

But partnerships are not always best made quickly, said Christopher Henney, chairman and CEO of Seattle-based Dendreon Corp.

“Most young companies see unnatural pressures from shareholders to do deals too early, and there’s a whole variety of reasons for doing that, but mostly I think it’s to get shareholders comfortable with technology in which they have invested,” he said, adding that such premature arrangements may look fine in the short term, but “usually turn out to be a bad deal” for smaller firms.

Stanley Crooke, chairman and CEO of Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Carlsbad, Calif., said it was important for the antisense company to do “significant partnerships early on,” without giving up the store.

“That’s what we’ve done, that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” he said. “Last year was a fairly productive year. We did 17 transactions with 13 companies. Our strategy is to continue to develop the technology and never I mean never license any of the patents to the core technology, only the applications.”

David Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc., said the company has “done fewer but much more significant, broader-based collaborations. We’ve spent about $360 million in research, half of it funded by corporate partners.”

The San Diego-based company has 11 major alliances, with “10 drugs in human development that are billion-dollar drugs,” three of which are in Phase III trials, Robinson said.

Ligand has several products on the market. Morphelan, a pain-control drug licensed from Elan Corp. plc, of Dublin, Ireland, is near FDA approval.

“We’ll go to market with that later this year,” Robinson said. “We’re doubling our product revenues each year from our specialty [pharmaceutical] business, and it will bring us to profitability this year. As our royalty stream is perhaps a year, 18 months away, we’re in a position where we can start to do more and more on our own, and broaden out [the] specialty business. We’ll be taking products from our technology that address bigger and bigger markets forward on our own, using some of our wealth generated in the last decade.”

The conference continues through today.