By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH stuck a deal with ImmunoGen Inc. to develop a less toxic cancer therapeutic using ImmunoGen¿s Tumor-Activated Prodrug (TAP) technology.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Gregg Beloff, chief financial officer for Cambridge, Mass.-based ImmunoGen, said the company usually structures its deals the same way, with similar financial terms. Specifically, he said the BI agreement is not unlike the May 2000 deal with Genentech Inc., of South San Francisco, to strengthen the cancer drug, Herceptin. Genentech paid ImmunoGen $2 million in up-front payments and likely will pay up to $40 million in milestones. (See BioWorld Today, May 5, 2000.)

BI, like Genentech, Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline plc, is interested in ImmunoGen¿s maytansinoid TAP technology, which is designed to deliver highly active cytotoxic agents directly to tumor cells with minimal harm to healthy tissue. The TAP is comprised of a potent small-molecule effector drug conjugated to a tumor-targeting monoclonal antibody. TAPs, nontoxic while circulating the body, are activated once inside the target cell.

¿BI will come to us with an antibody, and the theory is that the antibody is found to be specific for surface receptors on the surface of cancer cells, but nowhere else in the body,¿ Beloff said. ¿The problem is the majority of antibodies will not act like Herceptin [in its naked format the antibody alone will not kill the cells], so we potentate the effect of the antibody ¿ we take advantage of its specificity by attaching to it the small effector molecule.¿

The research involves antibodies targeting CD44, an antigen found on squamous epithelial cells involved in head and neck, lung and breast cancers.

The agreement gives BI, of Ingelheim, Germany, exclusive worldwide rights to commercialize resulting products. It also gives BI responsibility for manufacturing, development and marketing, while ImmunoGen gains responsibility for manufacturing preclinical and initial clinical materials for manufacturing payments.

Beloff said the collaboration fits well into ImmunoGen¿s business strategy. ¿We take our proprietary TAP technology, and we outlicense it to companies like BI and Genentech and Millennium on extremely lucrative terms,¿ he said. ¿And that does two things for us. One, it validates our technology, and two, it provides us with a lot of cash. We take that cash and apply it to development of our internal proprietary pipeline.¿

He said other successful companies sign a lot of deals ¿ maybe 30 to 40 worth $3 million or $4 million. ¿In general, if you look at all of our deals, we have fewer, but the economic stake is much more lucrative. We hope the more high-quality partners we sign on, such as BI, the greater the validation is with respect to our technology.¿

Earlier in November, ImmunoGen and Genentech released an update on Herceptin (trastuzumab) progress saying that Herceptin conjugated to DM1 caused complete tumor regression in HER-2-positive xenograft models in mice. And trastuzumab-DM1 demonstrated superior antitumor activity when compared to Herceptin alone, the companies said. Genentech plans to file an investigational new drug application next year.

ImmunoGen¿s stock (NASDAQ:IMGN) closed Wednesday at $15.53, down 94 cents.