By Matthew Willett

Altea Genomics Inc. and Elan Corp. plc agreed Wednesday to form a joint venture company to develop products, primarily DNA vaccines and gene therapies, based on Altea's non-invasive MicroPor technology and Elan's formulation expertise.

The venture, designed to create up to five products, will focus its efforts on developing novel vaccinations for cancer and infectious agents. Financial terms of the collaboration were not disclosed.

"We hope to achieve the development of some novel products using our delivery system in conjunction with DNA," Altea CEO Deborah Eppstein said. "We'll be looking at DNA vaccines as well as gene therapies.

"Most vaccines are based on protein antigens or whole inactive microorganisms such as viruses," she added. "DNA vaccines utilize just the DNA component of the organism or disease you're trying to vaccinate against, and inject in such way that it itself will generate the immune response."

Altea Delivers Macromolecules Through Skin

Altea's MicroPor technology is a drug delivery method that non-invasively delivers macromolecules through the skin. Elan will formulate novel compounds the joint venture identifies for MicroPor delivery.

The companies will share development costs and seek marketing partners for the therapeutics the collaboration produces. Eppstein said those compounds are being identified now, but that it's too early to speculate on when compounds might reach human trials.

"Certainly, we'll be doing animal studies, and we'll get into the clinic as soon as we think it appropriate," she said. "There are five products which we'll agree on, and those are being evaluated right now, and Altea will have the rights to other products using our technology."

She added that the companies complemented each other specifically for this discovery and development venture.

"We felt there was a synergy of our two technologies. Elan is very experienced in drug delivery systems and all the nuances that go with delivery of drugs. Altea is a younger company and has innovative technology, but you need the whole mixture to develop a product, so teaming up is the optimal way to develop products to both companies' benefit," she said.

Tucker, Ga.-based Altea is a private company begun with internal financing and patents for monitoring systems in 1995. A license for that technology to SpectRX Inc., of Norcross, Ga., and a sublicense agreement with Abbott Laboratories, of Abbott Park, Ill., gave the company its revenue stream.

Elan focuses on the discovery, development and marketing of therapeutic products and services in neurology, acute care and pain management. The Dublin, Ireland, company consists of three divisions: Pharmaceuticals, Pharmaceutical Technologies and Pharmaceutical Operations.

Elan's stock (NYSE:ELN) closed Wednesday at $54.

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