CancerVax Corp. said it will acquire Cell-Matrix Inc. to complement its focus on monoclonal antibodies and angiogenesis as part of its vaccine program for cancer.

Privately held Cell-Matrix, of Los Angeles, brings with it intellectual property and technology in the field of angiogenesis. It also brings several monoclonal antibodies in preclinical development that have potential to treat cancer and other diseases dependent on angiogenesis.

“We believe that [the acquisition] makes sense,” David Hale, president and CEO of Carlsbad, Calif.-based CancerVax, told BioWorld Today. “Our focus is on biological products for the treatment of cancer, and we have completed a strategy that would focus on our therapeutic cancer vaccine, which is our lead product, Canvaxin.

“We are also pursuing a second focus on monoclonal antibodies,” Hale said. “Basically, we’ve been looking at three areas: cancer vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and angiogenesis.”

As privately held CancerVax was investigating angiogenesis, it discovered Cell-Matrix. Cell-Matrix’s technology is based on the identification of antibodies and peptides that promote or inhibit angiogenesis.

“We felt that it had a unique, proprietary technology in the field of angiogenesis using monoclonal antibodies, and we felt that fit very well with our strategy,” Hale said.

While CancerVax did say the transaction would be completed with stock and assumption of debt, Hale would not disclose specific details.

“They will be integrated and become a part of CancerVax over the next year,” Hale said.

The company said in a prepared release that Cell-Matrix’s laboratories will be relocated to CancerVax’s new headquarters and research facilities in Carlsbad during the second quarter.

The acquisition will be accomplished through a merger with a new, wholly owned subsidiary of CancerVax, with the subsidiary retaining the Cell-Matrix name. This entity will be continued “for a period of time” and will be focused on licensing out Cell-Matrix’s technology for diseases other than cancer and eye disease, Hale said.

Cell-Matrix has an existing sublicense agreement with Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc., of New York, which focuses on diseases of the back of the eye. Cell-Matrix has sublicensed certain antibodies to Eyetech, an agreement CancerVax said “has the potential to yield meaningful revenue from milestones and royalties from product sales.”

Cell-Matrix was founded in 1999 by Peter Brooks, director of angiogenesis and associate professor at New York University School of Medicine; Daniel Broek, associate professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California; Anthony Montgomery, associate professor at the University of California at San Diego; and Raymond Mirra Jr., chairman, president and CEO of APS Inc., a health care products distributor. Brooks will serve as a consultant to CancerVax and as a member of its scientific advisory board. Broek and Montgomery also will have consulting roles at CancerVax.

CancerVax’s Canvaxin vaccine is in two international, multicenter Phase II clinical trials for the treatment of Stage III and Stage IV melanoma, which are scheduled for completion in late 2004 or 2005 “if they’re not stopped as a result of interim analyses,” Hale said. In December, CancerVax filed an investigational new drug application to begin a pivotal Phase II/III trial to study Canvaxin for Stage IV colon cancer.

CancerVax is scheduled to apply for marketing approval of Canvaxin in Canada for advanced melanoma in the fourth quarter of this year, Hale said. The company also has in research a therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer.