By Randall Osborne

On the heels of a major deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., privately held ICAgen Inc. has signed a $12 million pact with Abbott Laboratories to develop drugs for urological disorders and for diseases of the central nervous system.

Under the terms of the three-year agreement, Abbott, of Abbott Park, Ill., will pay $12 million up front to ICAgen, with milestone payments and royalties for any products developed.

ICAgen, of Research Triangle Park, N.C., focuses on drugs that work by opening and closing ion channels. In the latest deal, it will use a subset of its proprietary ion channel molecular targets and gene family chemical libraries to find promising compounds, while Abbott will devote resources to compound screening, lead optimization and studies.

"There are specific disease targets" within the two categories, said P. Kay Wagoner, ICAgen's CEO, and Abbott has done some research. "They have over 20 people already working on the project, and we're adding another 10 or so from our side," Wagoner said.

About a month ago, ICAgen signed a $75 million deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York, granting it the worldwide rights to ion channel inhibitors designed to prevent and treat atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart arrhythmia. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 1, 1997, p. 1.)

"That was a different sort of deal, a product-based deal," Wagoner said. The pact with Abbott is technology-based, with a combining of resources to find product candidates. Wagoner said more partnerships -- of each kind -- are in the works.

"Our strategy provides for both," she said. "We'll take them as they come."

Founded in 1992, ICAgen also has a deal with Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis, which gives ICAgen exclusive access to Lilly's combinatorial small molecule compound libraries for screening against potassium, chloride and water channel targets. A joint venture is under way with ArQule Inc., of Medford, Mass., to screen that company's combinatorial libraries.

ICAgen works in seven therapeutic areas: Parkinson's disease, memory loss, epilepsy, transplant rejection, arrhythmias, Reynaud's disease and gastrointestinal motility disorders. *