By Alan Sverdlik

Centocor Inc. signed a deal with Crucell NV that lets Centocor develop and market the Dutch firm¿s anticancer antibodies everywhere except Europe.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, Centocor, of Malvern, Pa., will pay Crucell annual milestone payments ¿in the tens of millions of dollars, royalties that will hover between the high single and low double digits¿ and exclusive commercialization rights in Europe, said Crucell CEO Dinko Valerio.

Crucell, of Leiden, the Netherlands, is also allowed to use Centocor¿s registration material to help make its case with European regulators.

¿We are highly impressed with Centocor¿s expertise in antibodies and its capacity to manufacture them,¿ Valerio told BioWorld Today. ¿There is a worldwide shortage in antibody manufacturing right now, and that¿s what they can do for us.¿

Bill Newbould, Centocor¿s manager of corporate communications, said the firm was ¿attracted to the alliance because Crucell has an integrated approach¿ to fighting various cancers ¿ a reference to Crucell¿s MAbstract technology, which identifies disease targets and produces human antibodies.

Newbould said the company would not comment further, but Valerio called MAbstract ¿the marriage of two technologies¿ that includes coveted targets. ¿Everyone is in dire need of targets,¿ he said. ¿We can provide target discovery and antibodies in one swoop.¿

Crucell, whose antibodies are potentially effective in fighting breast cancer, colorectal cancer and multiple myeloma, is fighting disease on a different front than genomics and proteomics, which use ¿the presence or absence of gene products,¿ Valerio noted.

¿Many of the differences between healthy and diseased cells are not so straightforward,¿ he said. ¿The critical question is, What does this antibody on the surface of the diseased cell mean?¿¿

He said genomics and proteomics only provide ¿a narrow snapshot on how molecules differ in different cells. But molecules can change their shape. They can change their configuration. They can change their confirmation.¿

Crucell, which trades on both the Nasdaq and European exchanges, went public in October 1999. In the second quarter of 2001, it lost EUR7.1 million (US$6.47 million), with revenues of EUR$1.2 million. Before non-cash items, the loss was EUR4.4 million. It has a cash position of about EUR124.8 million. Crucell (NASDAQ:CRXL) closed Thursday at $6.90, up 70 cents. Centocor, acquired by J&J in October 1999, does not trade as an individual stock.