By Matthew Willett

Immunex Corp. and Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc joined forces in a collaboration targeting the development and commercialization of human antibody-based therapeutics for autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.

The broad collaboration calls for an equal split in research costs and profits, and marks a furthering in the trans-Atlantic relationship between Immunex, of Seattle, and CAT, of Melbourn, England.

The companies last year entered a licensing arrangement granting Immunex access to CAT¿s phage display library for reagent generation and target validation and giving the Seattle company options on eight therapeutic antibody products. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 4, 2000.)

Douglas Williams, Immunex¿s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said the new deal with CAT is an opportunity for Immunex to take advantage of antibody targets it has now instead of waiting for its own antibody generation technology to come to fruition.

¿This one is really about speed,¿ Williams told BioWorld Today. ¿We¿ve got a number of targets we¿ve identified as good targets for antibody-based therapeutics ¿ we actually have more than we can handle internally with our in-house capacity.

¿We¿ve been looking for collaborative interactions with a partner where we can take well-validated proprietary targets and have our partners do the up-front work developing the antibody,¿ he continued. ¿The targets we¿re interested in have a lot of in-house expertise that we¿ve built around them, and we¿ve built value and we don¿t want to see that value lost.¿

This collaboration calls for two proprietary targets from Immunex, and CAT will take primary responsibility for antibody identification and target optimization. Immunex will handle preclinical and clinical development in addition to commercialization.

Williams said the collaboration could produce an antibody within six months, and within a year he anticipates being in a position to put an antibody in the clinic.

¿We signed a similar deal in nature with Abgenix [Inc., of Fremont, Calif.] last year in the cancer arena to allow us to deal with some pent-up demand we¿ve created with another target,¿ Williams said. ¿It¿s a way of increasing our number of at-bats and do it in a risk- and cost-sharing modality that we think is the wave of the future.¿

Founded in 1981, Immunex¿s FDA-approved products include Enbrel, a tumor necrosis factor inhibitor; Leukine, a yeast-derived granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor; and the chemotherapeutic Novantrone, which also is approved for secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

The company continues to develop Enbrel, testing its long-term safety in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Immunex also is developing the drug for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Also in development is Avrend (CD40L), a kidney cancer therapeutic that began a Phase II trial in early 1999. In May 1999, Immunex and Genentech Inc., of South San Francisco, entered into a development and marketing agreement for the anticancer agent TRAIL/Apo2L.

CAT¿s phage display library of more than 100 billion distinct antibodies has made it an industry leader in antibody development. CAT currently has four therapeutic antibodies under development at various stages in human testing.

Immunex¿s stock (NASDAQ:IMNX) rose 59 cents Monday, closing at $18.41. CAT¿s shares (LSE:CAT) gained #1.55 Monday to close at #26.49.

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