By Karen Pihl-Carey

Medarex Inc. entered into its 19th agreement using HuMAb-Mouse technology - this time with Centocor Inc. and other affiliates of Johnson & Johnson (J&J).

Centocor and Medarex first began collaborating in 1997, but with J&J's recent acquisition of Centocor, J&J wanted all its subsidiaries to have access to the same technology, said Donald Drakeman, president and CEO of Medarex.

Under terms of the new agreement, Medarex will receive technology access fees, and possibly milestone fees, license fees and royalties on sales. In return, Centocor and other affiliates of J&J gain access to the HuMAb-Mouse technology for an unlimited number of targets.

Centocor, of Malvern, Pa., has developed a high-affinity human antibody from the HuMAb-Mouse. The antibody is in preclinical development, and the company has other product candidates behind it. Neither Centocor nor Medarex are disclosing specifics about the candidates.

In October 1998, Centocor obtained exclusive commercial licenses to fully human antibodies to four antigens created with the HuMAb-Mouse technology by making a $4 million equity purchase in Medarex. In January 1999, Centocor paid Medarex $4 million in milestone fees for the ongoing use of the technology.

"Centocor has paid us $8 million in the last couple of years because of their use of this technology, and potential milestones in this deal will depend on how many antibodies they develop, but could well be in excess of $100 million, plus royalties," Drakeman told BioWorld Today. "It depends on how broadly the technology is used. This is a multi-year, multi-target agreement."

In March, Medarex formed a strategic alliance with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Tarrytown, N.Y., to develop the antibodies from more than 20 initial targets. A month earlier, it entered into an alliance with Eos Biotechnology Inc., of South San Francisco, to develop and commercialize at least six and up to nine genomics-derived, antibody-based therapeutic products to treat or prevent life-threatening diseases that may include breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 15, 2000, p. 1; and March 13, 2000, p. 1.)

Part of the attraction to Medarex's technology, Drakeman said, is its ability to generate high quality, completely human, monoclonal antibodies to any target in a short amount of time. Medarex also has implemented its T-12 development program that allows it to move a product from target to trial in 12 months using its expertise in manufacturing antibodies under FDA requirements.

"So it's this combination of high-quality human antibodies with extremely efficient development that has the partners lining up at our door," Drakeman said.

Medarex's stock (NASDAQ:MEDX) closed Wednesday at $53, down 95.31 cents.