By Mary Welch

In a deal similar to one reported Monday, Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc. licensed rights to develop and commercialize an AIDS drug from a Japanese company.

In the agreement disclosed Tuesday, Agouron agreed to pay Japan Energy Corp., of Tokyo, up to $26 million, including an up-front license fee of $6 million, for JE-2147, an HIV protease inhibitor. The La Jolla, Calif., company is expected to enter clinical trials with the drug next year.

Agouron will have exclusive rights to JE-2147 in North America, Europe and other, unnamed countries. Japan Energy will maintain commercialization rights in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Agouron will pay Japan Energy royalties based on sales.

Monday Agouron reported it agreed to pay up to $40 million to Shionogi & Co. Ltd., of Osaka, Japan, to develop and commercialize S-1153, a second-generation non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor for treating HIV. That drug will enter Phase II trials during the next quarter.

Agouron's stock (NASDAQ:AGPH) closed at $30.316, down $3.062.

New Drugs Book-End Replication Process

"Again, this deal shows our commitment to fighting HIV and finding compounds that are not HIV resistant," said Joy Schmitt, associate director of corporate communications for Agouron.

"The deals are similar but this one [with Japan Energy] is a protease inhibitor that hits the virus in a different part of its replication cycle than S-1153. Two different drugs in two different classes."

Protease inhibitors attack HIV replication near the end of the cycle; reverse transcriptase inhibitors interfere near the beginning.

In fact, JE-2147 is more akin to Agouron's star drug, Viracept, which is the second-best selling of the four protease inhibitors (in terms of prescriptions written) currently on the market. Viracept, which is on track to generate fiscal year 1998 sales of about $350 million, was the most successful biotechnology drug launch ever. The company's fiscal year ended Tuesday.

"We were interested in JE-2147 because it has an appealing resistant profile," Schmitt said. "Down the road when the HIV virus becomes resistant to the protease inhibitors currently on the market, then JE-2147 will be used. It's almost like a follow-up drug." *