By Brady Huggett

Inflazyme Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and Helicon Therapeutics Inc. entered a research agreement to examine the potential of small-molecule anti-inflammatory compounds in the learning and memory fields.

Helicon, of Uniondale, N.Y., will evaluate an undisclosed number of compounds from Inflazyme, of Richmond, British Columbia, in its in vivo models of learning and memory. Helicon, upon making a milestone payment to Inflazyme, has the right to license a compound for development. Helicon will be responsible for all preclinical costs associated with the program and Inflazyme will receive royalties on any sales. Other financial details were not disclosed.

Helicon owns intellectual property positions related to neurobiological signaling pathways involved in long-term memory development. It was that pathway that interested Inflazyme.

"They have evaluated some compounds through that pathway," said Jeffrey Bacha, vice president, corporate development at Inflazyme. "But the overall profile of those compounds didn't show them as lead compounds. Then they approached us and inquired about our compounds."

Inflazyme focuses on the discovery, development and commercialization of novel small-molecule therapies for the treatment of inflammatory disease. To thrust its compounds into the memory arena isn't something it felt like doing on its own, but the deal with Helicon gives it that chance.

"This gives us an opportunity to expand our portfolio outside our core focus," Bacha said. "We couldn't tackle this area in the near term ourselves."

The deal has expansive properties for Helicon, too.

"[Inflazyme] has developed some compounds that we think may have utility in memory disorders," said George Carmany, president and CEO of Helicon. "What [the agreement] does is broaden the number of compounds that we can run through our pathway."

Inflazyme worked a buy-back option into the deal, giving it the chance to help develop the compound if it seems as if it might become profitable. By reimbursing Helicon for certain clinical costs and then funding 50 percent of costs beyond the buy-back stage, Inflazyme would be entitled to 50 percent of any revenues.

"If it looks like it will be a potentially successful product, we want the ability to participate on a large scale," Bacha told BioWorld Today.

Helicon was formed in 1997 as a joint venture between F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.; and Oncogene Science Inc., of Uniondale, N.Y., to do basically two things, Carmany said. (See BioWorld Today, July 21, 1997.)

"One was to screen compounds against the long-term memory pathway that was discovered at Cold Spring," he said. "And second, to identify downstream genes. In addition to the genes that are known to play a role, to identify those that are yet to be discovered."

Helicon raised $6 million in a Series B round in January, saying it would use the funds to accelerate the development of its core technologies. It is shifting from a virtual company to an operating one, leasing space in a biotechnology park, called Broad Hollow Bioscience Park in New York, and moving in soon. It is hiring and has about a dozen people doing work for it. Another round of financing doesn't seem too far away, Carmany told BioWorld Today.

"We should be getting some milestones in the next months," he said. "But one always has to look ahead to the next round."

With this deal in hand, Helicon can focus on its goals for the next year.

"We would like to see an expansion of the number of compounds that we will have access to for screening their activity," Carmany said. "And expansion of our animal testing capability."

Inflazyme's stock (TSE:IZP) moved up 1 cent Wednesday, to close at C$3.90. n