BioWorld International Correspondent

BORNHEIM, Germany - GPC Biotech AG entered a deal worth up to US$100 million to find and validate drug targets for the pharmaceutical company Byk Gulden, of Constance, Germany.

Byk Gulden is the pharmaceuticals group of Bad Homburg, Germany-based Altana AG.

The Byk deal was been disclosed a few days after GPC, of Martinsried, Germany, entered an agreement on drug target finding with the German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, valued at up to $30 million.

The Byk deal focuses on oncology and consists of two parts: "Phase I is worth up to $40 million. This includes a single-digit up-front payment in the millions, and research & development funding for a two-digit number of scientists here at Martinsried, as well as at our Cambridge, Mass., facilities for the next five years," GPC CEO Bernd Seizinger told BioWorld International. "Also included in the $40 million part are fees for milestones in preclinical research and drug discovery."

Part two is worth up to another $60 million. It is related to potential milestones during clinical development. Royalties, in addition to the deal, would be in the mid-single digits in percentage of sales, he said. A double-digit percentage of sales in some cases is possible, depending on the success of product sales.

GPC's task is finding targets whose inhibition causes apoptosis in tumor cells but not in normal cells, Seizinger said. "Many of the known apoptosis targets are important for biology, but give poor access to drugs, also referred to as nondrugable targets. We use more than half a dozen technologies to search targets which are biologically relevant as well as being drugable."

GPC uses high-throughput genomic and proteomic technologies. "[When] we find a protein associated with apoptosis in tumor cells which is nondrugable, we use our proteomic PathCode technology to identify this target's signaling network," he said. In this network of interaction with other proteins, the researchers will search for drugable targets, Seizinger explained.

GPC also will validate the targets.

The deal fits well in GPC's internal oncology programs, Seizinger said. "We have about 40 patents covering cell cycle control," a mechanism of major importance for tumor genesis, he said. "We also have programs on angiogenesis, in collaboration with one of the worldwide experts, Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School." Other oncology programs are in monoclonal antibodies for treatment of lymphoid tumors and a gene therapy program in collaboration with Cell Genesys Inc., of Foster City, Calif.

"This is GPC Biotech's largest pharmaceutical alliance and we believe the biggest deal in German biotech to date," Seizinger said. "We are proud to have Byk Gulden as a repeat customer, as are Aventis and Boehringer Ingelheim. Coming back to us shows that they are satisfied with our performance shown in the previous cooperations."

In the recent two-year agreement with Boehringer Ingelheim, GPC will search for and validate drug targets associated with human papilloma virus infections for Ingelheim's Canadian research center in Laval, Quebec. The agreement includes up-front payments, R&D funding and fees on certain milestones in clinical development. For the milestone fees, there is no time limit. Royalties will be subject to additional payments to GPC.

"We want to establish a broad pipeline with an oncology focus in clinical research and want to bring as many complementary drugs as possible into clinical research," Seizinger said. Preclinical development is expected to start this year for a potential drug for cell cycle inhibition and an antibody against certain lymphoid tumors.

"We are not a one-trick pony," Seizinger said.

GPC also is running its own preclinical programs on infection and autoimmune diseases. "We do not want to run all of our programs through clinical research. We will pick up certain projects, mainly in oncology, to run them in clinical development on our own. Other programs, mainly in infections and immunology, will be out-licensed in the next two years," Seizinger said. "In addition to raising revenues from our technology platform, our investors will experience a second wave of revenues raised by out-licensing advanced programs. The third wave will be labeling our own products, most probably focused on oncology.

"Revenues from commercializing our technologies and approximately EUR110 million cash in the bank give us a comfortable financial situation. This allows us to run drug development on our own for several years," Seizinger said.