By Brady Huggett

Corixa Corp. signed a research collaboration with Biovation Ltd. to design antibodies in a deal that was percolating before Corixa bought Coulter Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The agreement stipulates Biovation, of Aberdeen, UK, will use its DeImmunization technology to come up with antibodies in undisclosed areas for potential commercial development. Biovation gets up-front research money along with the lure of license fees and potential milestones and royalties to be paid if Corixa selects antibodies for further development.

Fiona Adair, director of business development at Biovation, said her company originally had South San Francisco-based Coulter in mind.

¿Initially, when we started the discussions, they were with Coulter, and Coulter in my opinion is one of the foremost antibody therapeutics companies out there,¿ she told BioWorld Today. ¿We¿ve always been very impressed with the people there, and on that basis, when Corixa bought Coulter we [went forward].¿

Corixa executives were not available for comment.

Although Adair would not discuss the financial specifics of the deal, she said it followed typical research deals of this type.

¿This deal will have the same kind of significance of other deals we¿ve done in this area,¿ she said. ¿A number of other companies out there have done deals of this nature. Depending on how you calculate those figures you can come up with some nice fees, but our policy is not to release figures.¿

Biovation was acquired itself by the Merck Group in October. It has linked its proprietary DeImmunization technology with companies in the United States, Australia and Asia. It¿s that technology that will power the deal with Corixa.

¿The best way to describe [DeImmunization] is as a reverse immunization,¿ Adair said. ¿One of the side effects of human antibodies is that they can still provide [an immune] response and the body sees them as foreign. What we do is identify and eliminate T-cell epitopes, the regions in the antibodies that mark out what is foreign and causes the immune system to respond. Then you don¿t have that immune response; we remove that problem.¿

If Corixa picks antibodies to develop and potentially take into the clinic, it will foot the bill itself and shape the route.

¿Any development will be paid by Corixa,¿ Adair said. ¿We won¿t be taking any path in the development.¿

Corixa agreed to take over Coulter in October through a stock swap that was valued at more than $900 million. In that acquisition, Corixa picked up Coulter¿s product Bexxar, for non-Hodgkin¿s lymphoma. A biologics license application was filed for Bexxar in November, and Corixa got word in March that the FDA wanted additional information. Corixa¿s stock fell 14 percent on that news, closing the day at $9.50. The bad news, coupled with a failed Phase II trial for its psoriasis product PVAC in February, forced Corixa to reduce its staff by 10 percent to 15 percent. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 16, 2000; Oct. 17, 2000; and March 20, 2001.)

Corixa¿s stock (NASDAQ:CRXA) climbed 74 cents Monday, or about 5 percent, to close at $16.23.

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