By Matthew Willett

MedImmune Inc. and Genaera Corp. joined in a research collaboration and worldwide exclusive licensing agreement aimed at the development and commercialization of antibodies or recombinant molecules against interleukin-9.

The effort to find therapeutics for the treatment of asthma and other respiratory diseases could be worth more than $65 million in research and development funding, milestone payments, royalties and associated stock purchases to Genaera.

MedImmune, of Gaithersburg, Md., agreed to fund at least $2.5 million in research over the next two years, and could pay Genaera up to $55 million in milestone payments and royalties on resultant products. MedImmune also will purchase $10 million of Genaera convertible preferred stock.

For its part, MedImmune gets development, manufacturing, clinical testing and marketing rights for resultant products.

Roy Levitt, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based Genaera¿s CEO, told BioWorld Today that the collaboration is both a culmination and an initiation.

¿I think this is one of the best examples I¿m aware of of the reduction to practice of the genomics revolution where there is an encouraging amount of data produced,¿ Levitt said. ¿There are a few exceptions to this, where people are able to take that data and turn it into information you can use and there¿s a product derived. This has come full circle after 16 years of work. The deal we have with MedImmune is part of a development strategy with a company that has its foundations in respiratory disease.¿

IL-9 is an exciting target, he said, because of its varied implications in respiratory disease.

¿It has a very broad role, and we¿ve made good progress with our collaborators at the Ludwig Institute where we licensed the intellectual property,¿ Levitt said. ¿We have a unique position bringing this forward with MedImmune in that this target wasn¿t very well understood, but it is well covered in our intellectual property.¿

More than 65 million people suffer from diseases that may be mediated by IL-9, Genaera said, including 17 million asthma sufferers, 35 million individuals with respiratory allergies, 13 million chronic bronchitis sufferers and 2.4 million patients who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

¿If this product can be shown to be useful in as many as 65 million patients or more with chronic obstructive lung diseases, or even in a significant subset of that population, it should be a big product and help a great number of people,¿ Levitt said. ¿Certain moderate to severe asthma patients could benefit from a treatment that treats the root cause rather than just the symptoms. We¿re effectively trying to cut off the inflammation process.¿

Genaera, formerly called Magainin Pharmaceuticals Inc., had about $19 million in cash at the end of 2000, Levitt said. The company¿s anti-angiogenic compound, squalamine, is moving into Phase III, he said, and the company anticipates its obesity treatment, produlestan, will enter the clinic later this year.

This deal will increase the company¿s coffers by $10 million upon closing sometime this week, he said, but the downstream benefits, he said, should make an even bigger impact on Genaera¿s fiscal position.

¿The royalty is a substantial one and a fair one, considering where we are with this program,¿ he said of the preclinical-stage program. ¿I think it puts us in great shape down the road. We have a tremendous deal with MedImmune, and it was very carefully written and very fair.¿

In separate news, MedImmune released earnings Friday for the first quarter, reporting a 19 percent increase in revenues and a 20 percent increase in product sales.

MedImmune claimed total revenues of $245 million in the first quarter, up from $206 million in the same period in 2000. The company logged product sales of $235 million driven primarily by a 26 percent increase in sales of Synagis (palivizumab), a therapy for preventing respiratory syncytial virus in children and infants. MedImmune¿s Synagis sales were $221 million. End-user sales were $254 million.

The company said net earnings per diluted share for the first quarter grew by 177 percent over the same period in 2000, totaling 36 cents per share.

For the year MedImmune offered guidance for diluted earnings per share of 80 cents to 85 cents. It estimated worldwide sales of Synagis of $525 million to $540 million, and projects its total revenues will exceed $600 million.

MedImmune officials did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday. MedImmune¿s stock (NASDAQ:MEDI) closed Friday at $36.19, down $4.27. Genaera¿s shares (NASDAQ:GENR) closed at $2.17, up 20 cents.

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