By Kim Coghill

Washington Editor

Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Emisphere Technologies Inc. said Monday they are collaborating to determine the feasibility of developing an oral version of daptomycin, an antibiotic against Gram-positive bacteria, including those resistant to other therapies.

The companies signed a research agreement with an option to license worth up to $30 million for Emisphere, if a product is successfully commercialized, according to Jennifer LaVin, senior director of corporate communications for Cubist. In addition to research funding and milestone payments, Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Emisphere also could receive royalties on sales.

Under terms of the agreement, Cambridge, Mass.-based Cubist will be responsible for drug development and will receive exclusive worldwide commercialization rights to any oral products.

"This exciting research collaboration with Emisphere provides us the technical foundation to identify oral formulations of daptomycin, which we hope will lead to expanded uses of this important drug in combating serious bacterial infections," said Scott Rocklage, chairman, president and CEO of Cubist.

Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Emisphere Technologies is developing oral delivery technologies for drugs now requiring injections.

Cidecin (daptomycin for injection) already is being evaluated for efficacy in the treatment of complicated skin and soft tissue infections, community-acquired pneumonia and complicated urinary tract infections. It also is in Phase II studies for both the treatment of bacteremia and bacterial infections including endocarditis, osteomyelitis, complicated UTI, intra-abdominal infection and pneumonia in patients who are resistant, refractory or contraindicated to other therapies.

Emisphere's technology and development of daptomycin will benefit both Cubist and patients, said Lew Bender, senior vice president of business development for Emisphere.

"First, [oral drug delivery] will shorten the hospital stay or eliminate the need for health-care providers," Bender said. "By shortening the hospital stay, you will reduce costs and reduce the risk of infection while in the hospital."

And, having access to an oral medication as opposed to an IV also increases the chance that a patient will correctly complete the medication, he said.

From Cubist's standpoint, Bender said, "We can certainly improve their proprietary position and establish an expanded patent protection for the market. This also enables a whole new class of antibiotics to come into play."

Cubist in late October completed its acquisition of TerraGen Discovery Inc., of Vancouver, British Columbia, for $29 million in stock. The acquisition, a 608,000-share deal, expanded Cubist's anti-infective development and marketing operations, adding compounds including daptomycin to the company's pipeline. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 9, 2000.)

Emisphere has a non-binding letter of intent with Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Pharmaceuticals Co., to develop oral formulations of heparin and low-molecular-weight heparin using Emisphere's proprietary drug development technology. The companies signed the letter in June to co-develop solid oral-dosage forms of heparin and low-molecular-weight heparin. The oral liquid formulation of heparin, an anticlotting agent, is in Phase III trials.

Last March Emisphere signed an agreement to work with Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. on Axokine, a potential treatment for obesity and its complications.

The company has other agreements with Eli Lilly and Co. and Novartis Pharma.

Cubist's stock (NASDAQ:CBST) closed Monday at $48.625, down $1.50. Emisphere's stock (NASDAQ:EMIS) closed Monday at $26.937, down $1.062.

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