By Mary Welch

Medarex Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. inked a research agreement potentially worth up to $20 million involving Medarex's HuMAb-Mouse technology for creating high-affinity, fully human antibodies. Bristol-Myers, of New York, will use the technology to make human antibodies to multiple antigens for use in its drug discovery programs in oncology and immunology.

The agreement gives Bristol-Myers the option to commercialize these antibodies in a deal that would give Annandale, N.J.-based Medarex more than $20 million in research and development funding, license fees and milestone payments, plus royalties. There were no up-front fees paid, said Peggy Ballman, a spokeswoman for Bristol-Myers.

"We're really excited about this collaboration," said Lisa Drakeman, vice president of business development at Medarex. "This is the third deal we've announced since closing on the purchase of GenPharm in October, and it puts us over the $100 million mark for the HuMAb-Mouse technology."

That technology was developed by GenPharm International Inc., a Mountain View, Calif., company that Medarex agreed to acquire in May 1997 for $65 million. The HuMAb-Mouse generates, within three to six months, human (and therefore nonimmunogenic) monoclonal antibodies with strong binding ability to a wide variety of disease targets. These human antibodies can be readily reproduced as monoclonals and manufactured in large scale for therapeutic or diagnostic use. (See BioWorld Today, May 7, 1997, p. 1.)

Bristol-Myers Deal The Sixth For Mouse System

The Bristol-Myers deal marks Medarex's sixth HuMAb-Mouse partnership. The three partners GenPharm had prior to becoming a part of Medarex were Centocor Inc., of Malvern, Pa. (in a potential $50 million deal); Eisai Co. Ltd., of Tokyo (in a deal worth approximately $25 million); and LeukoSite Inc., of Cambridge, Mass. Since acquiring GenPharm, Medarex has added ErythroMed Inc., a company founded just last month based on the work of scientists at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville; Schering AG, of Berlin; and now Bristol-Myers. The ErythroMed pact is worth $13 million, the Schering deal, $9 million.

Through its GenPharm subsidiary, Medarex has launched a business creating and developing human antibodies for itself and others, offering a full range of antibody development capabilities, including preclinical and clinical manufacturing services.

"We're not done partnering," said Drakeman. "The long-term potential here is enormous."

Kevin Tang, an analyst with BT Alex. Brown Inc., in New York, wrote that he expects the company to announce two or three more deals before the end of the year.

Founded in 1987, Medarex develops treatments for cancer, infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders. The firm reported first-quarter 1998 revenues on March 31 of $1.3 million, up 191.7 percent from the same period last year, mainly as a result of new collaborations and the purchase of GenPharm. It closed the 1997 fiscal year with revenues of $3.2 million.

Medarex's stock (NASDAQ:MEDX) closed Monday at $6.812, up $0.062. *