By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Rigel Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Novartis Pharma AG expanded a two-year-old deal that now calls for Rigel to discover and develop small-molecule compounds that inhibit angiogenesis as a therapy for cancer.

The original deal, signed in 1999, focused on five different projects aimed at identifying targets using Rigel¿s functional genomics technology. Two of the projects were to be conducted at Rigel, of South San Francisco, and three at Novartis, of Basel, Switzerland. But under the modified agreement, the angiogenesis project will be conducted at Rigel. (See BioWorld Today, June 9, 1999.)

Rigel¿s technologies identify protein targets for compound screening and validate the role of those targets in the disease process. The angiogenesis program aims to identify novel drug targets that inhibit the growth of the new blood vessels, which starve tumors of the nutrients they need to grow and spread.

¿So often you hear of these deals, and a few years later they quietly fade away,¿ James Gower, Rigel¿s president and CEO, told BioWorld Today. ¿This is a case where they like what they have gotten so far, so they have changed the original deal to get Rigel involved in broader and broader aspects of drug discovery for them. This was something that was not anticipated in the original deal, where it was more a matter of using functional genomics. This is much more a new area, and it wasn¿t anticipated that we would do another full drug discovery program at Rigel.¿

Rigel will receive a $4 million up-front cash payment, milestones and royalty payments related to the development and commercialization of any therapeutics, diagnostics or vaccines resulting from the collaboration. Novartis retains exclusive worldwide rights to develop and market products in those areas relating to targets discovered under the collaboration.

Gower wouldn¿t discuss further details about finances, except to say that the overall deal is worth more than the potential $100 million reported in 1999. ¿One of the things we are really proud of is the fact that Novartis has seen fit to increase the value of the collaboration by expanding it into a broader aspect of research and in different targets than we originally anticipated, so it has significantly increased the potential compensation,¿ he said.

Other than the cancer program, the projects related to the collaboration under way at Rigel are in the areas of autoimmune disease and transplant rejection, while the respiratory program is being conducted at Novartis. Novartis will identify the final project by the end of the year.

¿The start of the program [in 1999] was finding targets for the activation of B cells and T cells, respectively, which fits in with Novartis¿ long-term interest in that area of immunology,¿ Gower said. ¿The third area that used our technology [at Novartis] is directed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. That also has been successful in utilizing our technology to find novel targets that regulate this disease.¿

Separately, Rigel has other programs in asthma/allergy, autoimmunity, transplant rejection, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic bronchitis, cancerous tumor growth and hepatitis C.

In January, Rigel extended an asthma/allergy research collaboration with Pfizer Inc., of New York, for one year, and the company has other collaborations with Cell Genesys Inc., of Foster City, Calif., and Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V., of Beerse, Belgium. In September, Rigel purchased exclusive rights to Hayward, Calif.-based Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc.¿s antiviral drug research technologies.

Rigel completed its IPO in November, raising $35 million through the sale of 5 million shares at $7 each. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 30, 2000.)

The company develops small-molecule drugs using combinatorial biology, high-throughput fluorescent cell sorters and protein-protein interaction mapping.

Rigel¿s stock (NASDAQ:RIGL) closed Tuesday at $8, up 28 cents.

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