By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

For the second time in almost exactly a year, Idec Pharmaceuticals Corp. reached across the ocean to make a hefty partnership deal, this time for research and development of macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) with Tokyo-based Taisho Pharmaceuticals Ltd. - which agreed to pay up to $35 million over the four-year term.

Of that amount, $18.5 million is guaranteed, and San Diego-based Idec keeps rights in North, Central and South America to any drugs that come out of the collaboration.

MIF, a pro-inflammatory mediator, has been shown capable of overriding the anti-inflammatory activities of corticosteroids, which could enhance their strength as therapy. Idec researchers have identified high-affinity monoclonal antibodies with MIF-blocking activity, and anti-MIF antibodies have been proven effective in preclinical models.

"Our primary areas of interest are asthma and arthritis," said Vince Reardon, spokesman for Idec. Kidney inflammation is another possibility, he said.

David Stone, founding partner of Applied Genomics Technology Capital Funds in Cambridge, Mass., said that, although much attention lately has been paid to genomics, monoclonal antibodies "have enjoyed a resurgence in the past four or five years."

Companies "can make them very specifically for the target, and things with an antibody tail tend to circulate a long time in the blood," said Stone, formerly an analyst with SG Cowen & Co., now SG Cowen Securities Corp., of New York. "[The monoclonal antibody] is a blunt instrument, in that you can't take them in pill form, so delivery's an issue, and they're expensive. But they're quite specific, and benign in terms of side effects."

Idec's anti-MIF antibodies are being developed under an exclusive license agreement with Cytokine PharmaSciences Inc., of West Conshohocken, Pa.

The MIF pact with Taisho recalls Idec's $47.4 million deal last year with Berlin-based Schering AG for marketing rights to Zevalin (britumomab tiuxetan; formerly IDEC-Y2B8), Idec's radiolabeled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma therapy. (See BioWorld Today, June 11, 1999, p. 1.)

In the Schering deal, too, Idec kept rights in the U.S.

Zevalin's CD20 cell-surface marker target, found only on B cells, is the same as that of Idec's Rituxan (rituximab), which in November 1997 became the first anticancer monoclonal antibody to win FDA approval. Zevalin, which uses the yttrium-90 radioisotope, showed positive interim results in a Phase III trial. (See BioWorld Today, May 25, 2000, p. 1.)

Under the terms of the Taisho deal, Idec gets $18.5 million in fixed research and development funding over the next four years, with the rest potentially in license reimbursements, license fees and milestones - all to be shared with Cytokine PharmaSciences.

"We're not disclosing any kind of split," Reardon said.

Idec has the option to convert its exclusive commercial rights to co-exclusive rights in Europe and other selected countries outside Asia. Taisho will pay Idec royalties on drugs marketed in its exclusive territories.

Idec's stock (NASDAQ:IDPH) closed Wednesday at $126.62, up $11.31.

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