By Lisa Seachrist
Just one month after gaining technology from the acquisition of Cytovia Inc., Maxim Pharmaceuticals Inc. has licensed it to BioChem Pharma Inc. in a deal worth $55 million.
The deal focuses on molecules capable of inducing cancer cells to die by activating the caspase enzyme system and triggering programmed cell death, or apoptosis. The companies will collaborate on the lead optimization, after which BioChem Pharma will take over the clinical development of any drugs.
"We are very pleased to get this molecule moving to the clinic with a motivated partner," said Larry Stambaugh, Maxim's chairman and CEO. "Our screening program is screening 10,000 compounds a day. Some of those are likely to be very interesting. We can't develop every high-potential drug candidate ourselves."
Under terms of the agreement, BioChem will pay San Diego-based Maxim licensing fees, research and milestone payments totaling up to $55 million. The companies aren't disclosing the breakdown of those fees, but Stambaugh characterized the up-front fee as "meaningful."
In addition, BioChem Pharma will pay a royalty on product sales resulting from the collaboration. In return, BioChem Pharma receives exclusive worldwide rights to develop, manufacture and market any products.
"As a company BioChem Pharma is focused on the cancer sector and one of the areas we are interested in is apoptosis," said Michele Roy, director of corporate communications for the Laval, Quebec-based company. "We have a program in apoptosis and part of our strategy is to work with collaborators to strengthen that program. We thought the caspase approach was interesting, and we think there is potential there."
The molecules serving as the basis for the collaboration are known together as CV2105. This series of small molecules - caspase activators, which trigger apoptosis - is in late-stage preclinical development. Research into these molecules indicates the cytotoxic effect can be achieved in cancer cells that are resistant to current chemotherapeutic drugs such as Taxol, vinblastine and doxorubicin.
Maxim bought into these molecules with its June acquisition of Cytovia Inc. Cytovia, a company spun off from Irvine, Calif.-based CoCensys in 1998 and now a wholly owned subsidiary of Maxim, has focused specifically on caspases - key enzymes that trigger the cell signaling pathways involved in apoptosis. The company developed activators and inhibitors of caspases for use in cancer, oral mucositis and cardiovascular disease. Maxim purchased Cytovia in an all-stock transaction worth $79 million. (See BioWorld Today, June 7, 2000, p. 1.)
While Maxim is looking to set up collaborations for a number of caspase modulators, Stambaugh said the company is considering developing a caspase inhibitor to protect the heart muscle from reperfusion injury following a heart attack.
Robert Toth, vice president and analyst at Prudential Vector Securities in San Francisco, wrote in a research note that the "licensing agreement speaks to the importance and value of Maxim's caspase-targeted technology."
In addition to the technology acquired from the Cytovia purchase, Maxim is preparing to file a new drug application for its lead drug, Maxamine (histamine dihydrochloride). The drug is being developed as a combination therapy with interleukin-2 for the treatment of malignant melanoma.
"We are on track for an NDA filing for Maxamine in mid-summer," Stambaugh said.
Maxim's stock (NASDAQ:MAXM) closed Tuesday at $59.687, up $3.437. BioChem Pharma's stock (NASDAQ:BCHE) closed at $24.312, down 6.25 cents.