By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

UroGenesys Inc. granted an exclusive worldwide license to Genentech Inc. to develop antibody-based therapeutics for the treatment of prostate cancer.

The deal, worth up to $33 million for privately held UroGenesys, covers the patent rights to Prostate Stem Cell Antigen (PSCA) as a target antigen for antibody therapy in any cancer indication, as well as a panel of monoclonal antibodies. The antibodies have been tested and validated in preclinical tests, but none has been moved to the clinic.

"We are very delighted to have Genentech, with their proven track record of advancing antibody therapies, as our partner for PSCA," said Aya Jakobovits, vice president of research and chief scientific officer for Santa Monica, Calif.-based UroGenesys. "We are hoping they will move into the clinic as soon as possible."

The companies aren't releasing the exact terms of the deal, but it includes an up-front licensing fee, milestone payments and royalties on any product sales. The licensing fee and milestone payments could total $33 million. South San Francisco-based Genentech steered the breast cancer antibody-based therapy Herceptin to approval in 1998. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 29, 1998, p. 1.)

PSCA is a cell surface protein that is expressed on the surface of all prostate cells. However, the level of expression is ramped up in prostate cancer cells. More than 80 percent of all stages of prostate cancer, including bone metastases, demonstrate excess levels of PSCA, as do the majority of bladder cancers.

Because PSCA is a specific antigen for prostate and prostate cancers, it is an ideal target for antibody-based prostate cancer therapy.

"The side effects associated with prostate cancer surgery are related to the surgery itself, not the lack of a prostate," Jakobovits said. "Developing an antibody therapy for prostate cancer is one of the most attractive indications. We think there is a lot of unmet need, especially as the disease gets more advanced."

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American men. Every year 180,000 American men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 1 million are currently living with the disease. Prostate cancer costs the American health-care system more than $4 billion each year.

UroGenesys has a portfolio of 40 proprietary targets in prostate and other cancers. The company, which was founded in 1997, intends to partner a number of those targets.

"We have a very rich pipeline of targets and we will be able to strike a number of similar deals," Jakobovits said. "We do intend to develop selected targets internally."

Genentech's stock (NYSE:DNA) closed Tuesday at $154.75, up $1.25.

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