By Frances Bishopp

Alanex Corp., acquired last month by Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc. for approximately $63 million, will collaborate with Roche Bioscience in a three-year agreement under which Alanex will provide compounds from its exploratory libraries on a nonexclusive basis to all five Roche global pharmaceutical research organizations.

While the financial terms of the Roche Bioscience collaboration were not disclosed, the agreement was "very significant and probably one of the biggest deals ever done in the area of combinatorial chemistry," Ed Baracchini, director of business development and strategic planning at Alanex, told BioWorld Today.

Under the terms of the agreement, Roche Bioscience, of Palo Alto, Calif., has the right to exclusively license leads that arise from the use of the Alanex screening libraries. In return, Alanex receives an upfront technology access fee, and annual research support.

The agreement also provides for milestone and royalty payments to Alanex.

Roche Bioscience is part of Roche Holding Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland. Besides the Palo Alto facility, the other four Roche research locations, which will have access to Alanex compounds for screening, are in Basel; Kamakura, Japan; Nutley, N.J.; and Welwyn, England.

Each facility, Baracchini said, has its own drug discovery programs with multiple assays, which will greatly increase Alanex's chances of finding a successful hit that could eventually lead to a drug.

Alanex, a combinatorial chemistry company, integrates its technology with high-throughput screening, computational chemistry and medicinal chemistry to create drug candidates that are ready for preclinical trials.

Most combinatorial chemistry companies provide hits, Baracchini explained, referring to a compound that affects a receptor, then the drug company takes it over to do the medicinal chemistry. Alanex not only gets the hit, but also converts it into a drug candidate, he said.

In July of 1996, Alanex and Roche formed a three-year collaboration to discover small molecule drugs in the area of pain. Alanex received its first milestone payment form Roche under this collaboration in February 1997.

When the Agouron acquisition is completed, probably by the end of May, Alanex will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Agouron, of La Jolla, Calif., Baracchini said.

The newly purchased Alanex, Baracchini added, will continue seeking its own collaborations, but will coordinate its activities to avoid partnering with any Agouron competitors.

Alanex has other collaborations with Astra Pharma Inc., of Sodertalje, Sweden; Novo Nordisk, of Bagsvaerd, Denmark; Aurora Biosciences Corp., of La Jolla; and ICOS Corp., of Bothell, Wash. *