By Karen Pihl-Carey
A new company spun off from Medarex Inc. chose its headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, not only because of investor interest, but also because of the potential for scientific and commercial development.
In fact, Lisa Drakeman, CEO of newly formed Genmab A/S, called Denmark "the undiscovered country," a perfect place for the new company to focus on the development of human monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases.
"There isn't as much of a Danish biotechnology industry as there is a U.S. one," said Drakeman, who also is senior vice president of Annandale, N.J.-based Medarex. "There isn't as many clinical studies so you have better access to patients here. It wasn't just that we could get capital. It's that we could move trials along rapidly."
Medarex agreed in February with Danish investors to share equally in the interests in Genmab. Each side has two members on the board. BankInvest, A/S Dansk Erhvervsinvestering, Lonmodtagernes Dyrtidsfond, and Leif Helth Care jointly invested about $7.5 million in the new company. In turn, Medarex provided licenses to its human monoclonal antibody technology and gave the company access to its preclinical development and manufacturing capabilities, as well as its management expertise. Drakeman said she expects her responsibilities as senior vice president with Medarex will decrease as Genmab continues to grow.
The company decided to spin off Genmab because it wanted to develop new products using outside resources, Drakeman said. Medarex took stock in the transaction so it would own roughly 50 percent of the new company.
The company will most likely look into more private rounds of financing sometime next year, and when the time is right and the valuation is fair, Genmab could go public, Drakeman said. The company already has applied for money through a vaekst fond, a Danish gross fund that loans money to biotechnology companies. The money only has to be paid back if the company succeeds in its endeavor, Drakeman said.
"We've got about two years worth of money," Drakeman told BioWorld Today. "And we expect in that two years to get into a Phase II study with the first product, and we expect to get a second product through a preclinical pathway" and possibly even two more products through preclinical stages, she said.
Genmab has the ability to create 100 percent human monoclonal antibodies in transgenic mice using Medarex's HuMAb-Mouse technology. The company believes human antibodies have a greater potential than antibodies containing mouse proteins because of immune system rejection. To date, Medarex has brought more than a half dozen monoclonal antibody-based products to clinical trials in the United States and Europe.
In Phase I clinical trials, Genmab has a high-affinity, human CD-4-targeting antibody for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The escalating-dose study is being conducted in the United States and Denmark for patients in whom one drug has already failed. The unnamed antibody, if successful, will reduce inflammation without reducing T cells, Drakeman said.
Genmab also has in preclinical trials human antibodies against interleukin-15 as a potential treatment for inflammatory conditions, such as psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease. The company is working under a license from Immunex Corp., of Seattle, to develop this second product.
The company has the rights to develop up to 11 antibodies against CD-4, IL-15 "and we are working on some other programs, but we have not disclosed those yet for reasons of patents and other things," Drakeman said.