By Lisa Seachrist

Privately held Pentose Pharmaceuticals Inc. has snagged its first major pharmaceutical partner in a deal with V.I. Technologies Inc. (known as Vitex) to develop a means of enhancing the latter¿s viral elimination method for pooled plasma products.

The deal, which is worth up to $12 million in cash payments and milestones for Cambridge, Mass.-based Pentose, will focus on Pentose¿s Inactine antiviral technology.

¿Vitex is a leader worldwide in the development of virally inactivated plasma products,¿ said Samuel Ackerman, president and CEO of Pentose. ¿This is a very important collaboration for us.¿

Vitex currently has the only FDA-approved method for inactivating viruses in plasma products. Its plasma product, PLAS+SD, has been treated with a solvent detergent to remove all enveloped viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis B and human lymphotrophic virus. The process, however, doesn¿t inactivate viruses that don¿t have a lipid envelope surrounding them, such as parvoviruses.

While most non-enveloped viruses don¿t cause life-threatening infections in most people, patients with compromised immune systems are susceptible to parvoviruses.

Inactines are small, electrophilic molecules that selectively bind and irreversibly modify DNA and RNA in such a way as to make those molecules inactive. Presumably, viruses found in plasma and treated with Inactines won¿t be able to replicate, including non-enveloped viruses.

¿We think its a great collaboration,¿ said John Barr, president and CEO of Melville, N.Y.-based Vitex. ¿We are excited about working with them. We are hopeful that this collaboration will lead to even safer plasma products.¿

Under the terms of the agreement, Vitex made an undisclosed, up-front cash payment for licensing, as well as a milestone payment. Should the Inactine technology produce a second inactivation step for treating plasma products, Pentose will receive $12 million from the deal, plus royalties. Neither company would disclose the precise royalty figure, but Ackerman said Pentose ¿was quite pleased with the terms of the deal.¿

Pentose also is developing an Inactine as a means to inactivate viruses in red blood cell products. Because Inactines irreversibly modify DNA and RNA, rendering them nonfunctional, Inactines will never be developed as an antiviral therapy. Inactines, however, spare other biological molecules, such as proteins and carbohydrates.

Also Targeting Human Papillomavirus

In addition, Pentose is developing a group of small-molecule compounds called Papirines as treatments for human papillomavirus, herpesvirus and respiratory viruses. Papirine compounds mimic the effects of interferon, but work topically and are cheaper to manufacture. They are structural analogues of 2-5 oligoadenylate (2-5A), the intracellular molecule that mediates many of the antiviral effects of interferon.

Ackerman said Pentose is in negotiations with several other major pharmaceutical partners for other technologies. The company is likely to pursue either a private financing or a public offering later this year or early next year, he said.

VITEX¿s stock (NASDAQ:VITX) closed Wednesday at $8.437, down $0.312.