Washington Editor

Genencor International Inc. and Seattle Genetics Inc. entered a multiyear agreement to discover and develop cancer therapeutics based on tumor-targeted enzymes that activate prodrugs. They are eyeing the filing of an investigational new drug application sometime in 2003 on the first resulting product.

“They have a platform called ADEPT [antibody-directed enzyme prodrug therapy] and we have a platform called TEPT [targeted enzyme prodrug therapy]. There are some things about each of those approaches to curing cancer which are competitive, and there are some things which are complementary,” Debby Jo Blank, chief business officer of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Genencor, told BioWorld Today. “We decided to throw both platforms together in a joint venture where we would each own 50 percent of whatever drugs come out, and collaborate together and take advantage of each other’s strengths.”

ADEPT has the targeting ability of monoclonal antibodies to deliver enzymes to the surface of cancer cells. The enzymes then activate prodrugs at the tumor site without damaging normal tissue. TEPT, on the other hand, produces highly evolved enzymes with antibody-like targeting domains.

“The attractiveness of the TEPT and ADEPT platforms is that a number of different drugs can come from each,” Blank said. “So it’s not only one product it’s the ability to validate and get more experience with approaches for prodrug cancer therapy, and then we can create different drugs targeting different types of cancer using those same approaches.”

Clay Siegall, Seattle Genetics’ president and chief scientific officer, told BioWorld Today, “We’re very excited that both companies will be putting together resources and efforts to jointly make targeted enzymes, an exciting opportunity for future candidates.”

Seattle Genetics’ lead product candidate for metastatic melanoma, SGN-17/19, likely will be the first drug to benefit from the collaboration. If all goes well, Blank said, SGN-17/19 would enter the clinic in 2003. “That’s our goal, but if it doesn’t happen in 2003, it will be 2004 or 2005,” she said.

SGN-17/19 was developed using the ADEPT technology.

The companies will share development costs and each will have the right to commercialize any resulting products within the field.

Also, Genencor will make a $3 million equity investment in Seattle Genetics, of Bothell, Wash., and will pay specific milestone payments and fees. Meanwhile, Seattle Genetics will make certain milestone payments to Genencor.

“We are paying out slightly more money because we are paying them some milestones for advancing SGN-17/19. So in the early stage of the deal we are paying more money, but if you look at how this deal may progress over a long period of time, it could be approximately equivalent,” Blank said. “We took the equity investment in Seattle Genetics because we are the larger company and we believe if you are going to enter a deal with a company, you should believe in them as a company enough to take out an equity position.”

Aside from TEPT, other Genencor technologies included in the collaboration are the epitope-mapping technology (the i-mune assay), and protein engineering and expression capabilities.

Also Monday, Genencor said it formed a two-year collaboration with Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for the research of therapeutics vaccines and other immunotherapies targeting cancers and oncogenic viruses.

Both Genencor and Seattle Genetics are fairly young public companies. Although Genencor was founded in 1982 as a joint venture between Genentech Inc. and Corning Inc., the company didn’t go public until the end of July 2000. Genencor raised $126 million, selling 7 million shares of common stock at $18 per share. (See BioWorld Today, July 31, 2000.)

The company has taken part in other multimillion-dollar deals, including a potential $35 million agreement with Midland, Mich.-based Dow Corning Corp. to develop a Silicon Biotechnology platform. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 23, 2001.)

And earlier last year, Genencor acquired the rights to VP22 technology from Phogen Inc., a joint venture of Xenova Group plc, of Slough, UK. Genencor will use the technology to improve the efficiency of its vaccines. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 15, 2001.)

Seattle Genetics raised $49 million in its IPO in March 2001. The company has four technologies, including engineered monoclonal antibodies, MAb-drug conjugates, single-chain immunotoxins and ADEPT.

Genencor’s stock (NASDAQ:GCOR) closed Monday at $13.90, down $1.55, while Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ:SGEN) closed at $6.12, up 57 cents.