By Matthew Willett

Biotech giant Amgen Inc. just got bigger, acquiring a pipeline of preclinical kinase inhibitors through the $170 million stock purchase of privately held Kinetix Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The proposed acquisition bolsters Thousand Oaks Calif.-based Amgen's small-molecule discovery program by about 40 employees and an intellectual property portfolio of small-molecule kinase inhibitors. The boards of both companies approved the deal. Kinetix shareholders still must OK it.

The acquisition came after close of trading Monday, when Amgen's stock (NASDAQ:AMGN) closed down $1.06 at $63.81.

Kinetix, founded in 1997, focuses on developing small-molecule therapeutics that act on kinases, enzymes whose phosphoylation act as molecular on/off switches, modulating cell function.

Amgen spokesman David Kaye said the acquisition is a broadening of an Amgen small-molecule program that's already grown through licensing.

"Amgen's got a long heritage in developing injectable proteins - Epogen and Neupogen are large examples - and in recent years we've broadened our drug discovery program beyond injectable proteins to the world of small molecules," he said.

Kaye cited two in-licensing deals, one with NPS Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Salt Lake City, and another with Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Baltimore, as the foundation of Amgen's small-molecule program.

"We have an active small-molecule drug program in house," Kaye said. "We've licensed at least two compounds that are already in the clinic, calcimimetics from NPS - that's an orally active drug for hyperparathyroidism, a very common disease for people undergoing kidney dialysis - and a second licensing from Guilford, for neuroimmunophilins, a family of compounds active in models of a number of neurological disorders."

The NPS deal for lead drug Norcalcin cost Amgen $44 million five years ago. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 29, 1995.) The lead calcimimetic, now known in the Amgen pipeline as AMG-073, is slated for Phase III testing next year, according to an 8-K form filed with the SEC on Monday.

The Guilford deal for Parkinson's disease therapeutics was valued at up to $465 million. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 22, 1997.)

The Kinetix acquisition falls somewhere in the middle. "We'll have a short-term effect of 3 cents per share, and a one-time charge of $30 million to write off acquired in-process research and development. The ongoing financial impact is expected to be minimal," Kaye said.

Medford, Mass.-based Kinetix's pipeline, however is expected to be substantial, offering lead compounds in several areas Amgen already focuses on such as oncology and inflammation. Kaye calls it "a good overlap."

Kinetix will be fully merged into Amgen. Its president and CEO, Nick Lydon, will become Amgen's vice president of small-molecule discovery, and its chief scientific officer and vice president of research and development, David Armistead, will assume responsibility for Amgen's research and development efforts in the Boston area.

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