By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

In a move reminiscent of big pharma companies, Human Genome Sciences Inc. (HGS) is funding a collaboration with Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc (CAT) to develop a therapeutic antibody targeted at proprietary antigens identified by HGS.

The deal includes three target proteins in total with the companies initially focusing on a "fast-track proprietary protein" identified by HGS. Melbourn, England-based CAT specializes in using phage display to generate fully human monoclonal antibodies and the optimization of those antibodies into clinical candidates.

"There are several antibody approaches on the cutting edge right now," said Gardiner Smith, director of business development for Rockville, Md.-based HGS. "Cambridge has the leading technology in phage display. We were looking for a company that could help us quickly develop a clinical candidate."

The financial terms of the agreement and the target proteins weren't disclosed. HGS will provide research funding to CAT as well as potential milestone payments and royalties on any products that come to market.

"What this deal shows is that over the past five to six years we have built our genomics business to the point that we now have a rich preclinical group of targets," Smith said. "Antibody therapy is really coming into its own and it now represents a quick way to move lead compounds to market."

HGS holds the antibody right to all its patented proteins. In addition to developing protein therapies, the company will now also develop antibodies against certain proteins as therapies.

"This represents the beginning of a new therapeutic approach for HGS," Smith said.

CAT and its other partners already have initiated clinical trials on three human antibodies, targeting TNF-alpha for rheumatoid arthritis, IL-12 for autoimmune disease and TGF-beta-2 for ocular fibrosis.