By Mary Welch

Cambridge Antibody Technology Group plc (CAT) signed a three-pronged agreement to develop new therapeutics with Wyeth-Ayerst Research that could bring about $70 million into CAT¿s coffers.

¿It is our biggest collaboration to date,¿ said John Aston, CAT¿s finance director. ¿But it also very significantly follows our company strategy, which is to develop therapeutic products based on our technology for long-term revenues, and exploit our technology for short-term revenues.¿

Basically, the deal involves a research collaboration, a product collaboration and a library license option.

Under the research collaboration, CAT receives $4 million per year in research funding for four years to apply its ProAb and ProxiMol functional genomics technologies to potential protein targets based on gene sequence information provided by Wyeth. As part of this agreement, CAT will set up its bioinformatics software, Continuity, at Wyeth¿s research facilities in Cambridge, Mass., so that Wyeth can have access to the large amounts of data supplied by CAT.

¿If they choose to develop antibody products from the research, they can do so,¿ Aston said. ¿But, they will then pay milestone fees and royalties. This part of the agreement generates short-term revenues from the technology for us with a downstream upside.¿

The second part calls for Wyeth, the research division of Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, and CAT to work together to validate and develop product candidates directed at targets generated by both firms. The goal is to develop a broad portfolio of human antibody-based drug candidates.

¿They provide targets; we provide targets,¿ Aston said. ¿These targets are sort of put in a pool and we both take turns at developing the candidates. There will be at least 10 candidates in the pool. We both do the work and we both share the funding. This also helps fuel our antibody product pipeline.¿

Whichever company brings a target through development to commercialization pays the other license fees, clinical milestone fees and royalties, and has limited rights to partner the program after Phase II trials. Aston wouldn¿t disclose how much that total figure was but said ¿it was mirrored,¿ meaning CAT and Wyeth had the same financial payment plan.

¿In our case, our strategy is to partner by the end of Phase II anyway, so it¿s perfect,¿ he said. ¿We don¿t intend on bringing products through Phase III and to market.¿

The third aspect of the deal gives Wyeth-Ayerst multi-site options to license CAT¿s phage library technology, which allows for the ¿pulling up¿ of potential antibody leads against targets of interest. Wyeth optioned to take the library in house for its own research. If any products develop, CAT receives milestones and fees.

Located in Melbourn, U.K., about 10 miles south of Cambridge, CAT uses phage display systems for rapidly isolating fully human monoclonal antibodies. Its phage display library currently has about 100 billion distinct antibodies

¿We can¿t break down the milestones from the license fees,¿ said Aston. ¿But if you add up all the potential funding, plus the $16 million [in research funding], it comes out to about $70 million. And that doesn¿t include fees and milestones if Wyeth-Ayerst were to exercise product development options on the research collaboration and library license option.¿

ProAb is CAT¿s approach to functional genomics using the antibody library as a tool to build a database of information on where a protein is made, where it ends up and whether it has any connection with important diseases. Proteins implicated in a disease can then be the principal targets of antibody and small-molecule drugs. With ProAb, CAT can analyze data on about 1,000 potential drug targets a month.

ProxiMol is a method for identifying molecules in close proximity to a potential drug target, providing information related to target validation and new target discovery. ProAb and ProxiMol, along with the Continuity bioinformatics software, provide powerful high-throughput and complementary tools for selecting the most promising targets for drug discovery, the company said.

¿It¿s really quite a broad deal,¿ Aston concluded.