West Coast Editor
SAN FRANCISCO While attendees of the annual JPMorgan H&Q Healthcare Conference scurried through the hallways of the Westin St. Francis hotel here, transgenic mouse company Medarex Inc. let loose a box full of news, including a three-way deal against breast cancer that “is the fulfillment of the original promise of genomics and proteomics to turn target discovery into product development,” said Donald Drakeman, president and CEO.
“We’re moving faster on this than anybody in the industry,” he said.
Drakeman, who presented at the conference Wednesday afternoon, spoke with BioWorld Today earlier, and characterized the agreement with Oxford Glycosciences plc, of Oxford, UK, and Genmab A/S, of Copenhagen, Denmark, as a “50-25-25” arrangement, as opposed to Medarex’s typical 50-50 deal.
The collaboration combines targets discovered by way of OGS’s proteomics platform with the combined capabilities of Medarex and Genmab (of which Medarex is one-third owner). Genmab was established in February 1999 by a group of Danish investors and Medarex, which licensed to Genmab its UltiMAb Human Antibody Development system, which uses genetically altered HuMAb mice. Medarex said last year it will develop a fully human antibody against inflammation with Genmab. (See BioWorld Today, June 20, 2001.)
In the OGS deal, “Genmab and Medarex are pooling their antibody resources so that our partner in Europe has someone in their own time zone nearby they can collaborate with directly,” Drakeman said.
OGS has identified “a number of attractive targets, and we’re working on both therapeutic antibodies and tumor vaccines,” he said.
“What we’re looking at is a comprehensive patient management approach in breast cancer. We’re not only creating the antibodies to knock the tumors back, but we also have antibodies to stop them from spreading, and vaccines to stop them from coming back,” Drakeman said.
In the autumn of 2000, Medarex and OGS entered an agreement under which Medarex would generate antibodies for up to 30 OGS protein targets for cancer or other life-threatening diseases, with the initial antigens being breast cancer proteins. Terms called for the companies to share preclinical and clinical responsibilities, and Medarex invested $5 million in OGS equity. The three-way deal, including Genmab, is a modification of that pact. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 12, 2000.)
The first product to emerge from the program, expected to enter clinical trials in about a year, is a fully human antibody that binds to and neutralizes the heparanase I enzyme. Preclinical tests indicate the antibody stops tumor growth and blocks metastasis.
As for tumor vaccines, they are part of more Medarex news. The company said it’s pursuing a “multipronged” program for various tumors, including advanced melanoma. Phase I/II trials of two products are under way, deploying a series of melanoma vaccines used in conjunction with MDX-010, Medarex’s fully human antibody that binds to the CTLA-4 molecule.
“We’ve talked before about our CTLA-4 antibody, which would basically release the emergency brake in the immune system,” Drakeman said. “When we match that with a tumor vaccine, we can get a really impressive response, and this is potentially a universal adjuvant,” useful in breast cancer vaccines and others.
In other Medarex news, the company entered a deal with Tularik Inc., of South San Francisco.
“It’s one of our applied genomics deals,” Drakeman said. “They’ve discovered targets, and are contributing that to our collaboration.”
Specifically, Medarex will use its UltiMab Human Antibody Development System to generate fully human antibodies based on three novel oncogenes discovered by Tularik. Oncogenes are genes that, when amplified or mutated, can lead to cancer.
“This is our 19th deal of that general nature,” Drakeman said. “We’re basically 50-50 partners [with Tularik] on the development of products.”
The final piece of Medarex news involves Sangamo Biosciences Inc., of Richmond, Calif., through which the pair of firms aims to boost antibody expression in mammalian cell lines using Sangamo’s zing finger DNA-binding protein gene regulation platform.
Medarex will provide two years of research funding to Sangamo, with the parties working to create cell lines that express more antibodies, and Medarex holding a nonexclusive license to use the lines. Sangamo gets unspecified milestone payments plus royalties.
“It’s a research and development collaboration,” Drakeman said. “Manufacturing of proteins is a job we’re all going to have to do, and there may be limited capacity in the industry for that.”
The president and CEO of Genmab is Lisa Drakeman, “a Medarex alumnus” and wife of Donald Drakeman, who noted that the overseas firm’s headquarters are in Denmark and “she lives over there much of the time.”
But the company also has branches in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and in Princeton, N.J.
“She’s on the go quite a bit, but by the same token, so am I,” Drakeman said, joking that “our business cards should just say aisle seat.’”
Medarex’s stock (NASDAQ:MEDX) closed Wednesday at $16.17, down 53 cents; OGS (NASDAQ:OGSI) ended at $10.95, up 60 cents; Sangamo (NASDAQ:SGMO) at $10.20, up $1.14; and Tularik (NASDAQ:TLRK) at $24.28, down 61 cents.
The conference continues through today.