Danish biotechnology firm Genmab A/S, which is developing human antibodies for a broad range of cancers and inflammatory conditions, disclosed two new deals on successive days last week, with Immunex Corp. and the UK firm Scancell Ltd.
Genmab was co-founded in 1999 by Medarex Inc., of Princeton, N.J., and a group of Danish investors. Its core technology platform is the Medarex-developed transgenic mouse, HuMAb-Mouse, which produces fully human antibodies.
The collaboration with Immunex, its second with the Seattle-based company, is based around Immunex¿s broad patent position covering the cytokine interleukin-15 (IL-15), a key molecule implicated in immunological signal cascades. This new project involves the development of a human antibody against an IL-15 receptor found on several tumor types, including T-cell and natural killer cell lymphomas and multiple myeloma.
The partners initially plan to address lymphoma, but may expand the program to other cancers, such as multiple myeloma. Copenhagen-based Genmab already is developing an antibody against IL-15 for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. This candidate, called HuMax-IL15, entered Phase I/II clinical trials earlier this month.
The new deal with Immunex is modeled on the older agreement between the two companies.
¿The terms are essentially identical,¿ Genmab CEO Lisa Drakeman told BioWorld International. Genmab is responsible for creating the antibody, called HuMax-Lymphoma, and developing it through Phase II trials. Immunex retains an option for exclusive development rights. If it chooses to exercise it, it would complete clinical development and would pay Genmab a license fee, milestones and share profits upon commercialization. If it decides not to pursue this course, then development rights will revert to Genmab, which would pay milestone fees and royalties to Immunex.
The Scancell deal is a 50-50 shared-cost, co-development project. Genmab is responsible for developing antibodies to targets identified by the firm based in Nottingham. The first molecule it will work on is the Lewisy/b antigen, which is overexpressed in breast, lung, colon and ovarian cancers.
These latest agreements bring Genmab¿s deal tally for the year to six. Since January, it has entered antibody development alliances with Reykjavik, Iceland-based DeCode Genetics Inc.; F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland; a three-way agreement involving Glaucus Proteomics BV, of Bunnik, the Netherlands, and Medarex; and a separate agreement involving the latter company.
¿Our goal is to continue to find interesting new targets,¿ Drakeman said.
The company has no immediate plans to develop or acquire any target discovery capability of its own, but will focus its resources on product development. Genmab is sitting on a substantial cash position. It exited the third quarter with US$203.6 million, and Drakeman said its net burn for the full year will be at the lower end of the US$13 million to US$15 million range.
The company has no acquisitions in mind, she said, but it would be open to anything with a good strategic fit. ¿For us, it would be whatever would help us build our pipeline or move our products forward more efficiently.¿ The company plans to build its own antibody manufacturing facility, but it will look to do so on a sale-and-leaseback basis. It has not yet decided on the location. ¿It would probably make sense for us to do that in Europe,¿ Drakeman said.