By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

Abgenix Inc. signed on Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc. as its 10th collaborative research partner.

The deal calls for Fremont, Calif.-based Abgenix to use its XenoMouse technology to produce fully human monoclonal antibodies to an undisclosed Amgen target antigen. In return, Amgen will pay up-front research fees, milestone payments as warranted and potential royalties on future product sales.

¿It¿s important to remember that last December Amgen announced that they would move into therapeutic antibodies in a serious way,¿ said Kurt Leutzinger, vice president and CFO of Abgenix. ¿I believe that we are the first deal that they have announced since then.¿

While not as expansive as the Genentech Inc. deal that Abgenix signed in January, which could be worth up to $120 million, the Amgen deal is similar to a previous collaboration with Pfizer Inc. That deal included two antigen targets, and Leutzinger said the two companies are negotiating a third target.

Abgenix¿s XenoMouse technology uses a strain of genetically engineered mice that, once immunized with an antigen, make entirely human antibodies that cause no immunogenic response in humans. The technology allows researchers to isolate the gene that makes the antibody, and scale up to manufacturing antibodies in two to four months. As a result, antibody therapeutics can move rapidly into clinical trials.

¿There are a lot of companies with a growing interest in antibodies as therapies,¿ Leutzinger said. ¿In order to implement antibody programs, many companies prefer to go with a fully human antibody. That¿s where we come in.¿

In addition to collaborative efforts, Abgenix is developing several products on its own. One of them, ABX-CBL, has recently completed Phase II clinical trials as a therapy to treat steroid-resistant graft-vs.-host disease, a fatal and untreatable complication of allogeneic bone marrow transplants. The company is currently in discussions with the FDA to determine the design of the Phase III effort.

In addition to ABX-CBL, the company has started a Phase I/II trial of ABX-IL8, which targets inflammation, as a therapy for moderate to severe psoriasis.

Abgenix also has an antibody, ABX-EGF, which targets the epithelial growth factor receptor. That product is in preclinical studies, and the company hopes to have it in the clinic mid-year as a therapy for a variety of cancers, including prostate, colorectal and breast.

¿Eventually, we expect to partner these products with larger drug companies at a later stage and under more lucrative terms than our technology agreements,¿ Leutzinger said. ¿We¿ve taken ABX-CBL so far ourselves that we may partner at a later stage than the other products. ABX-EGF could very well be part of a preclinical deal.¿

Leutzinger said the company intends to maintain a continuous stream of antigen targets in order to provide a continuous stream of product candidates.

Abgenix¿s stock (NASDAQ:ABGX) closed Monday at $14.875, up $1.50 a share. Amgen¿s stock (NASDAQ:AMGN) closed at $68.25, up $3.125 a share. n