LONDON ¿ Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc signed its first deal in infectious diseases, agreeing to a five-year collaboration with Merck & Co. Inc. to develop monoclonal antibodies against a key target on HIV.

John Aston, CAT¿s finance director, told BioWorld International, ¿In economic terms this is a standard deal with an up-front fee, milestones and royalties, and it involves a single target, so it is small in absolute terms. But it is with Merck, a leader in the field, and it is in HIV, and is significant for these two reasons.¿

This is the first time Merck has signed a partner in the field of human monoclonal antibodies. CAT will develop antibodies for use as a vaccine to prevent HIV and as a treatment for the infection. Merck will have exclusive rights to prophylactic and therapeutic products developed under the collaboration. There is no information on the HIV target, which is proprietary to Merck.

In the past two to three years CAT, based in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, has signed a large number of alliances for the discovery and commercialization of monoclonals, and now has more than a dozen partners.

Aston said, ¿Weve probably got a bit more room for further deals. Deals like this have a life cycle, where we do all the work up front, which is funded or low cost to us. Once we hand over the preclinical candidates there is no further cost.¿