Aurora Biosciences Corp. and Allergan Inc., already friendly through their 2001 ion channel collaboration, agreed to work on G protein-coupled receptor targets to drum up drug candidates.

Aurora, of San Diego, will develop and screen functional cell-based assays using Aurora’s Biosensor cell lines and GeneBLAzer beta-lactamase reporter gene technology to seek GPCR targets identified and provided by Allergan.

Michael Partridge, director, corporate communications at Aurora, said the expanded deal “highlights the indispensability of Aurora’s assay development and screening expertise to pharmaceutical partners for pursuing drug discovery.”

Suki Shattuck, director, investor relations and media relations at Allergan, said the deal was born out of an Allergan business model that includes collaborating with those with valuable talents.

“Allergan is committed to furthering its discovery research and is very open to using collaborations where they make sense,” she told BioWorld Today. “And when other companies have a skill set that adds to our own discovery research efforts, then we want to collaborate with them.”

In this case, the skill set includes Aurora’s Biosensor cell lines and GeneBLAzer technology. Although the companies did not disclose financial details, the deal is typically shaped: Aurora will receive an up-front payment, will have the chance to earn research performance and development milestones, and would see royalties on product sales.

Partridge said the financial terms of the collaboration are “comparable to some of the deals that Aurora has struck in the past based on its assay development and screening capabilities.”

Aurora has some impressive names in its collaboration list, including American Home Products Corp., of Madison, N.J.; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York; Genentech Inc., of South San Francisco; and F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland.

Early in 2001, Aurora and Allergan came together through an ion channel drug discovery collaboration for ophthalmic indications. The deal called for Aurora to supply its primary and secondary functional cell-based assays through its Voltage Sensor Probe technology and voltage ion probe reader, applying both to an Allergan ion channel target. The financials of that agreement were similar, with an undisclosed up-front payment to Aurora, performance and development milestones and royalties on marketed products.

While possible indications for Allergan’s targets are not being disclosed, Allergan, of Irvine, Calif., is a global health care company that develops and commercializes products in the eye care pharmaceutical, ophthalmic surgical device, over-the-counter contact lens care, movement disorder and dermatological markets.

Aurora, pulled inside Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. through a $592 million stock swap in the spring, is now operating as a wholly owned subsidiary. Partridge said the merger has progressed well since it was first announced. (See BioWorld Today, May 1, 2001.)

“We said at the time [of the Vertex merger announcement] that we would continue to seek collaborations based on Aurora’s technology base, similar to what Aurora has pursued before, in addition to pursuing new kinds of collaborations that the companies can only pursue together,” he said. “This is a good example of the former.”

Vertex’s stock (NASDAQ:VRTX) fell 22 cents to close at $23.95 Friday. Allergan’s stock (NYSE:AGN) fell 18 cents to close at $70.55.