By Brady Huggett

ZymoGenetics Inc. formed an alliance with Medarex Inc. to develop fully human antibody therapeutics, as it prepares to regain the independence it lost 12 years ago.

"One of the things we have been focusing on is bioinformatics and genomics," said Charles Hart, senior director, business development of ZymoGenetics. "We feel Medarex and its HuMAb and mouse system fit in well with our human antigen technology."

"The marriage of their target identification efforts and our human antibody technology is the best and fastest way to create genomic products," said Donald Drakeman, president and CEO of Medarex.

The companies plan to combine Medarex's fully human monoclonal antibody development technology and ZymoGenetics' knowledge in the field of genomics and protein therapies to create antibodies to multiple disease targets identified by ZymoGenetics. It is a multiple-year, multiple-antibody alliance that is extendable.

"I am sure, if everyone is happy, we will continue to work together for a long time," Drakeman said. "We expect numerous antibodies to come out of this arrangement."

ZymoGenetics, of Seattle, will be responsible for the development and commercialization of any human antibody products resulting from the collaboration. Medarex expects to receive license fees and milestone payments as well as royalties on commercial sales of products resulting from the alliance.

Hart said ZymoGenetics wanted to retain control of its own discoveries.

Medarex, of Princeton, N.J., develops monoclonal antibody-based therapeutics to fight cancer and other diseases. Its HuMAb-Mouse and TC Mouse systems create high-affinity, fully human antibodies. Its T-12 development program helps potentially move products from target to trials in about 12 months, and its Trans-Phage Technology combines high-throughput screening with fully human antibody development. Medarex has more than 20 partners for its HuMAb-Mouse technology, and Drakeman said the company is in discussions with several others. (See BioWorld Today, March 13, 2000; May 4, 2000; and June 2, 2000.)

The diseases the companies will work against were not specified, but the decision will be ZymoGenetics', Drakeman said.

"Right now, we have a number of internal targets we are evaluating to put into this program," Hart said. "We'll decide on a case-by-case basis on which ones will go into the Medarex collaboration."

Novo Nordisk A/S, of Bagsvaerd, Denmark, bought ZymoGenetics 12 years ago for the bargain price of $30 million, and it has served as a research arm for Novo since then. Today it has around 500 patent applications filed, five products it invented are doing $1.5 billion in sales annually, and it is poised to slip back out of Novo Nordisk's arms. (See BioWorld Today, May 5, 2000.)

"The goal is still to become independent by the end of 2000," Hart said. "But that depends on a lot of other situations."

That independence from Novo most likely will be accomplished by Novo issuing a private placement of ZymoGenetics shares, giving ZymoGenetics controlling interest. Meanwhile, it's business as usual. Hart said the company remains active in its patent filing activities and sees that growing in the coming year. In July it formed a collaboration with Fibrogen Inc. to develop a wound repair product. (See BioWorld Today, July 27, 2000.)

Medarex's stock (NASDAQ:MEDX) closed at $52.75 Thursday, down $2.406.

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