BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - ExonHit Therapeutics SA and IDEC Pharmaceuticals Corp. signed a collaboration and research agreement aimed at discovering new antigen targets for antibody therapy, with a particular focus on prostate carcinoma.

IDEC will have exclusive worldwide rights to certain antibody-based therapeutic applications of the new targets discovered. Paris-based ExonHit will to receive an undisclosed up-front payment from San Diego-based IDEC, followed by milestones and royalties on the sale by IDEC of products developed as a result of the collaboration.

The research program calls for ExonHit to use its core technology, DATAS (differential analysis of transcripts with alternative splicing), to identify alternative splicing of genes expressed in cancer cells, after which IDEC will identify and target new antigens using its monoclonal antibody and radioimmunotherapy technologies.

Maintaining that its approach “provides the most comprehensive information on gene expression differences between normal human prostate tissue and tumor tissue,“ ExonHit CEO Bruno Tocqu said that this would enable the companies ”to quickly identify relevant antigen targets that will be of great interest for monoclonal therapies. ”

IDEC is specialized in developing targeted therapies for the treatment of cancer and autoimmune diseases. Its approach is based on antibody products that essentially act through immune system mechanisms, exerting their effect by binding to specific, readily targeted immune cells in the patient s blood or lymphatic systems.

ExonHit uses its gene profiling technology, which detects disease-relevant changes in mRNA sequences resulting from alternative RNA splicing, to develop more effective diagnostic as well as therapeutic products in a range of pathologies, and is itself developing therapeutic compounds for the treatment of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. In November it entered into a target identification collaboration with Allergan Inc., of Irvine, Calif., and also is engaged in a collaborative research program with the Insitut Curie, of Paris, in the area of breast cancer.

ExonHit, which raised EUR30 million (US$26.5 million) in a third funding round last month only 15 months after a second round that netted it EUR14 million, expects to move into profit in 2004.