By Aaron Lorenzo

Looking to further its marketability and profitability, Alkermes Inc. partnered with Reliant Pharmaceuticals LLC, a privately held company that has successfully marketed pharmaceutical products since its founding two years ago.

The deal calls for Reliant to market certain undisclosed Alkermes products to primary and specialty physicians, while Alkermes made a $100 million equity investment in Reliant, thereby acquiring approximately 19 percent of the company.

¿We are on our way to building a pharmaceutical company,¿ Alkermes CEO Richard Pops told BioWorld Today. ¿Every couple of years, we make an acquisition or we do something else that just makes good on this promise of building this company.¿

The alliance provides Cambridge, Mass.-based Alkermes with a partner to acquire, develop, market and sell its pharmaceutical products.

¿What¿s happened over the last 10 years is that our science has become technology very useful for delivering drugs,¿ Pops said. ¿And then these drug delivery technologies moved into commercialization partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies. Now these first products are reaching the marketplace, and we scaled them up and we built factories to make them in. And now we¿re applying these drug delivery technologies to products for our own account. Here¿s another step where we¿re moving toward the marketplace by a significant equity interest and partnership with a very, very rapidly growing and exciting commercialization enterprise.¿

The companies agreed to explore collaborations in several areas, including Reliant¿s marketing or co-marketing of Alkermes¿ products.

¿There are really four important components to this relationship,¿ Pops said. ¿No. 1, we have certain product candidates that we¿re developing now that Reliant could be the logical sales partner for. Think of those as already-identified products that are in development.

¿No. 2, we have had some product concepts, or ideas, that we¿ve elected not to pursue in the first phase precisely for the reason that it would require a large sales force to sell them. Now we¿re reactivating those types of discussions for thinking about applying our drug delivery technologies to products that would be sold through a primary care physician.¿

¿No. 3, because we collaborate with so many pharmaceutical companies, we see on an increasing basis the opportunity to acquire products out of pharma. We¿ve been unable to play in that game, basically, because we haven¿t had a sales force.¿

The deal also calls for merging Alkermes¿ drug delivery technologies and manufacturing capabilities with Reliant¿s product portfolio.

¿No. 4, we can just do classic delivery deals with Reliant to improve formulations of their molecules,¿ Pops said. ¿There are a lot of points of contact between the two companies. And that¿s why we were so interested in taking a substantial equity piece, because we believe by virtue of our affiliation with Reliant, we can increase its value. We want to be able to participate in the appreciation of Reliant as well as simply opening a channel for the commercialization of our products.¿

Both companies have prior relationships with major pharmaceutical firms dealing with their respective technologies and services. Alkermes focuses on controlled, sustained release of injectable drugs lasting several days to several weeks, using its ProLease and Medisorb technologies.

Alkermes¿ pipeline includes Nutropin Depot, marketed with South San Francisco-based Genentech Inc., as a long-acting form of human growth hormone approved to treat pediatric growth deficiencies. It is in Phase III trials for adult applications.

Alkermes developed Risperdal Consta with Janssen Pharmaceutica Products LP, a unit of New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson, which filed in September with the FDA for approval of a long-acting injectable formulation of the antipsychotic drug.

Also in September Alkermes reported finishing the first clinical trial in a plan to develop advanced formulations of London-based GlaxoSmithKline plc¿s respiratory drugs. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 17, 2001.)

In the spring, the company entered its second deal with Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. to use Alkermes¿ AIR pulmonary delivery system with short-acting and long-acting insulin. The year before, Alkermes and Lilly paired up in a deal involving human growth hormone. (See BioWorld Today, April 3, 2001, and Feb. 9, 2000.)

¿The most visible proprietary product that we have is a formulation of a drug called Naltrexone for the treatment of alcoholism and opiate abuse,¿ Pops said. ¿This is a single injection that lasts a month, and that¿s going to Phase III trials next year.¿

Alkermes¿ investment in Reliant was accompanied by a $50 million investment by Pritzker family business interests and Bay City Capital, already the major equity owners of Reliant.

Liberty Corner, N.J.-based Reliant markets three branded, patent-protected pharmaceutical products to U.S.-based primary care and targeted specialty physicians: Lescol (fluvastatin) and Lescol XL (fluvastatin sodium) extended-release tablets developed by East Hanover, N.J.-based Novartis; DynaCirc (isradipine) and DynaCirc CR, an extended-release formulation, also developed by Novartis; and Axid (nizatidine) developed by Lilly.

The company also has two new drug applications pending with the FDA.

Alkermes¿ stock (NASDAQ:ALKS) closed Tuesday at $25.06, up 41 cents.