By Brady Huggett

Peregrine Pharmaceuticals Inc. and SuperGen Inc. signed a potential $8 million Vascular Targeting Agent technology licensing agreement that puts another notch on SuperGen's oncology belt and begins Peregrine's push to get its technology into as many hands as possible.

The vascular Targeting Agent Technology (VTA) is specifically related to vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).

SuperGen, of Dublin, Calif., will make an up-front equity investment in and milestone payments to Peregrine, of Tustin, Calif., that could total $8 million. It also will pay royalties to Peregrine on any commercialized drugs using the VEGF technology. It was the uniqueness of this technology, and SuperGen's ability to develop products, that facilitated the signing, the companies said.

"The [technology] is a method we want to take advantage of," said Robert Cohen, vice president, investor relations and finance at SuperGen. "It is something that is different, it is something that is not small-molecule therapeutics, and it is a different way of attacking a tumor. It's another expansion of our oncology franchise utilizing a new technology."

"One of the things we look at is whether we think a company will move quickly with a compound," said Edward Legere, director and recently named interim CEO at Peregrine. "SuperGen has a pretty good track record of working with compounds and moving through the clinic quickly. We thought it was the right company to work with this technology."

It would appear so. SuperGen is not suffering a shortage of oncology products.

"We have a robust pipeline of drugs," Cohen said. "This technology expands it, of course." Cohen pointed out that in all likelihood, SuperGen will have four oncology drugs in Phase III by the end of the first quarter: rubitecan, already in late-stage Phase III; decitabine for myelodysplastic syndrome; Nipent for graft-vs.-host disease; and Avicine, a vaccine for colorectal cancer licensed from AVI BioPharma Inc., of Portland, Ore.

"And we have other drugs in our pipeline we are working on," he added. "We could couple some of those drugs with this technology."

Cohen said SuperGen will do further preclinical work with the technology before going into the clinic.

The technology is being developed by Peregrine and Oxigene Inc., of Watertown, Mass., under a joint venture called Arcus Therapeutics LLC. The technology works to do two things: cut off the blood supply to tumors and also attack it with attached, tumor-destroying therapeutic agents. Since the technology is a platform, the agents that can be linked are variable.

"We are only dealing with chemotherapy, radiation and photodynamic agents," said Cohen. "There may be some other ways Peregrine can license it out to others."

And Peregrine plans to. The equity investment in Peregrine by SuperGen is "very small, less than 1 percent," said Legere, but the deal should be one of many.

"We licensed only the VEGF compounds of the vascular-targeting platform," Legere said. "We aren't licensing all our technology away; we are just licensing one piece of it. Our strategy is to license to many groups, because these are platform technologies and can deliver many types of compounds. It is a scratch of the surface of the VTA technology.

"Arcus has a multiple strategy to market products on our own, and license out what we are not going to focus all our efforts on," he added. "We aren't looking for big deals to do; we are looking for many deals."

SuperGen's stock (NASDAQ:SUPG) dipped 50 cents Tuesday, to close at $12.25, while Peregrine's stock (NASDAQ:PPHM) closed unchanged at $1.687. n