By Matthew Willett

Biogen Inc. entered a collaboration with Elan Corp. plc under which it gained exclusive worldwide development, manufacturing and commercialization rights to Antegren, Elan's humanized monoclonal antibody for multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease.

Biogen said the collaboration could result in Antegren use in combination with Biogen's world-leading multiple sclerosis therapy Avonex, which had $190 million in sales in the second quarter.

Avonex second-quarter sales increased more than 30 percent in 2000 compared to the same period in 1999. Total revenues for Biogen in 1999 from Avonex were $620 million.

"This collaboration demonstrates our continued commitment to the MS field and has the potential to benefit medical conditions of highly unmet needs like Crohn's disease," Kathryn Bloom, Biogen's director of communications, said. "It's an important addition to our pipeline, and we're pleased that we're partnering with Elan."

Antegren, an Elan discovery, is the first alpha 4 integrin inhibitor therapeutic designed to block cell adhesion to blood vessel walls and the subsequent migration of white blood cells to tissues. By binding to the cell surface receptors alpha-4-beta-1 and alpha-4-beta-7, Antegren could benefit a range of inflammatory and non-inflammatory diseases.

Antegren currently is nearing the end of Phase II clinical testing for multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease.

Bloom said if clinical testing remains on the track it has taken, Antegren could be ready for commercialization in 2004.

Dublin, Ireland-based Elan obtained Antegren from Protein Design Labs Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., in a May 1998 non-exclusive worldwide license agreement that included a $1.3 million up-front payment, milestones and royalties on commercialization of the drug.

Bloom said Antegren is "very promising," as a treatment alone or in combination with Avonex.

"Avonex is the market leader, and it represents a tremendous advance for treatment for people with MS," she said. "There are people who are not helped by the current MS drugs that are available, and we see Antegren as the first non-interferon treatment for MS, so we feel that there will be a large market niche representing untreated or inadequately treated patients."

Biogen, of Cambridge, Mass., and Elan will share ongoing development costs associated with Antegren commercialization, and the agreement includes milestone payments to Elan. Further financial details were not released.

Biogen's stock (NASDAQ:BGEN) gained 25 cents Thursday to close at $70.50.

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