LONDON ¿ The Icelandic population genomics company deCODE Genetics has signed its first deal on monoclonal antibodies, agreeing to a collaboration with Genmab A/S, of Copenhagen, Denmark, to develop antibody therapeutics based on disease genes discovered by deCODE.

The two also agreed to jointly develop a DNA test to predict whether an individual patient will respond to Genmab¿s antibody treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, currently in Phase II.

The multitarget alliance will cover cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases and cancer. Lisa Drakeman, CEO of Genmab, told BioWorld International, ¿We have not disclosed a particular number of targets, but deCODE expects to contribute four targets in the first year. It is a five-year agreement. We think deCODE has really good science and a very efficient way to discover disease genes, and it will be a productive relationship.¿

Within the five years Drakeman said she expects to put several products into the clinic. ¿Antibodies go into the clinic pretty rapidly, around two years. We have the potential in this time to reach Phase II, delivering a lot of value for both partners.¿ The two will share development costs equally. Drakeman said they will decide on a product-by-product basis how to commercialize. ¿With cancer products, we could think of having our own sales force; in cardiovascular, we would expect to work with pharma.¿

DeCODE, based in Reykjavik, Iceland, is using the detailed medical and genealogical records of the Icelandic population to uncover genes involved in common diseases. Genmab is a licensee of Medarex Inc.¿s UltiMAB technology for generating fully human antibodies, and is 32 percent owned by Medarex, of Princeton, N.J.

Under the terms of the license Medarex has the right to take 25 percent of any of Genmab¿s programs. Medarex has expressed interest in contributing to the alliance, and Drakeman said the company would decide on a target-by-target basis whether to take part.

Genmab raised US$183 million when it floated on the Copenhagen and Frankfurt Stock Exchanges in October 2000. Drakeman said the company had EUR235 million at the end of the first quarter of 2001, and can afford to see projects right through the clinic.

This is Genmab¿s second deal with a genomics company. In December 2000 it agreed to a deal with Gemini Genomics plc, of Cambridge, UK, covering targets in osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Gemini has since agreed to be taken over by Sequenom Inc., but Drakeman said she expected to go forward with the deal. ¿We think the tie-up with Sequenom is good for them and good for us.¿

Drakeman said the DNA diagnostic to assess the effectiveness of HuMax-CD4 likely will be a pharmacogenomic tool first. Rheumatoid arthritis is probably more than one disease displaying the same symptoms. ¿No medication works for everyone, and there are products on the market that only work about half the time, or less. The aim is to develop a blood test which will show an individual patient¿s chance of responding.¿ She expects the test to be on the market at the same time as the drug, and says if the project is successful, Genmab could develop tests for other antibody products.

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