By Karen Young

Immusol Inc. and NeoGenesis Pharmaceuticals Inc. entered a collaboration to discover small-molecule drug candidates to treat HIV.

The deal calls for NeoGenesis to apply its drug discovery technologies to Immusol¿s biologically validated cellular drug targets to search for small-molecule candidates. NeoGenesis¿ technologies include its automated ligand identification system and its NeoMorph library of more than 10 million drug-like compounds.

No money is being exchanged, but financial details beyond that were not disclosed.

The collaboration will continue for three years, and at the end of the collaboration, the privately held companies hope to have ¿developed a rich pipeline of small-molecule compounds,¿ said Niv Caviar, vice president of business development for San Diego-based Immusol.

Caviar said each party brings unique elements to the table, and they will be sharing equally in the development and profits from any candidates discovered through the collaboration.

¿We¿re going to share the risk, the cost and rewards,¿ Caviar said. ¿We will share the expense 50-50. It¿s a smart way to work with a really good partner in a joint way to minimize the risks and share the costs.¿

Satish Jindal, president and chief scientific officer of Cambridge, Mass.-based NeoGenesis, said the companies would maintain control over development up to Phase I trials, when they will make a decision whether to develop any promising compounds themselves or license them out.

The collaboration also advances both companies¿ long-term business strategy.

¿In the big picture, Immusol is forward integrating and transitioning to become a biopharmaceutical company,¿ Caviar said. ¿We have basic research, target identification and target validation, as well as clinical and preclinical capabilities.

¿The one piece that we did not have was small-molecule compounds, and as a company we are entering this area via partnerships,¿ Caviar said.

Jindal agreed that the deal helps NeoGenesis evolve by moving ¿toward our goal of discovering and developing our own drugs.¿

For the collaborative work, the companies would not disclose how many targets are involved. However, they said the targets are cellular genes. Immusol will use its Inverse Genomics platform technology, which targets cellular genes that are essential for virus replication but are not critical to the normal function of the cell.

¿What¿s unique about our approach through our Inverse Genomics is that we identify cellular genes whose inactivation leads to the desired phenotype or reduction in the virus¿ ability to proliferate in a human cellular system, but whose cellular inactivation does not result in damage to the human cells,¿ Caviar said.

Jindal noted that HIV often becomes drug resistant. By not attacking the virus directly, it does not develop resistance, he said.

¿By targeting the host, we will overcome the problem of drug resistance,¿ Jindal said.

In early October, Immusol signed a deal with Novartis Pharma AG that may net the company more than $150 million. The five-year collaboration calls for Immusol to deliver at least 50 targets to Novartis in the oncology area. As with NeoGenesis, Immusol will use its Inverse Genomics technology to discover de novo biologically validated targets for Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 2, 2001.)

¿We hope to rapidly increase the number of partnerships we have and ultimately find them for all our therapeutic areas,¿ Caviar said, noting that the company¿s focus is on oncology, infectious disease, neurology, obesity/diabetes and allergy/inflammation.

In February, Medarex Inc. made a $5 million equity investment in Immusol as part of a strategic alliance for the development of fully human antibodies. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 21, 2001.)

Likewise, NeoGenesis in recent months has announced several collaborations, including agreements with Tranzyme Inc., of Birmingham, Ala.; Mitsubishi-Tokyo Pharmaceuticals, of Tokyo; Celltech Group plc, of Slough, UK; and Tularik Inc., of South San Francisco.

No Comments