By Randall Osborne

Medarex Inc. chalked up deal No. 7 for its HuMAb-Mouse technology, signing an agreement that could be worth more than $30 million with privately held FibroGen Inc., which focuses on chronic organ fibrosis and post-surgical scarring.

"It's a new area for us," said Lisa Drakeman, vice president of business development for Annandale, N.J.-based Medarex.

Under terms of the deal, FibroGen will provide targets, including connective tissue growth factor and its processed fragments: bone morphogenetic protein 1 and tolloids, which are key proteins implicated in fibrotic disease.

Medarex will use the mouse to produce fully human antibodies against the targets, which can be done in three to six months. FibroGen could pay more than $30 million in research and development funding, license fees and milestone payments, plus royalties on any resulting products.

Last month, Medarex signed a deal with New York-based Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., and that agreement potentially is worth $20 million — one-third less than the pact with more humbly sized FibroGen. (See BioWorld Today, June 16, 1998, p. 1.)

"Remember, these [deals] all have different structures," Drakeman said. "They have different numbers of proteins in them. It depends on what happens in the deal."

Thomas Neff, president and CEO of FibroGen, said the company's agreement with Medarex is "not a lot of money" right away. "We can afford it," he said.

"The fact is, we are supporting some research at Medarex for the next two or three years," Neff told BioWorld Today. "Whether [Medarex] can do the job with our antibodies remains to be proven. We think they have good prospects."

Research Aims To Halt Fibrotic Cascade

With Medarex, FibroGen hopes to develop antibodies that block the fibrotic cascade. These would be useful in chronic diseases such as kidney fibrosis, transplant rejection and scleroderma.

FibroGen also is the world leader in making recombinant human collagen for use in tissue sealants, gelatin caplets and other applications.

The deal with Medarex is unusual, Neff added, in that it covers 12 antigens.

"The primary term of the research deal is about two years, but I would expect it to go three years or more," Neff said. "There's a lot to do."

FibroGen began negotiating last May with GenPharm International Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., which developed the HuMAb-Mouse technology. Medarex agreed last year to acquire GenPharm for $65 million. (See BioWorld Today, May 7, 1997, p. 1.)

The deal with FibroGen was designed to reward a steady growth rate, without big up-front payments or major cash outlays early in research, Neff said.

"They get what they want, and we get what we want," he said. "With young companies, that's always a trick."

Medarex's stock (NASDAQ:MEDX) closed Wednesday at $6, unchanged. *