By Frances Bishopp

GenPharm International Inc. has signed a $57 million research and commercialization agreement with Centocor Inc., based on GenPharm's HuMAb-Mouse strain, which contains functional human antibody genes.

The collaboration is focused on developing completely human antibodies to several unnamed antigens, Jonathan MacQuitty, CEO of GenPharm, told BioWorld Today. The agreement provides Centocor, of Malvern, Pa., with worldwide marketing rights to any of the antibodies which enter the clinic.

In turn, research and benchmark payments will be paid to GenPharm, depending on the success of the program as well as two equity investments, the specific amounts of which were not disclosed. An undisclosed up-front payment was made to GenPharm, MacQuitty said.

In addition, Centocor will pay royalties to GenPharm on any products resulting from the collaboration.

"After both equity investments, it will represent about 10 percent of the company," MacQuitty said.

HuMAb-Mouse is a transgenic mouse strain containing unrearranged human antibody genes that rearrange to form high-affinity human antibodies. The mice can be used to generate human monoclonal antibodies to a wide variety of antigens, especially human antigens.

In 1995, GenPharm reported the addition of other human sequences into the mouse along with extensive characterization of fully human IgG antibodies generated by it.

In 1993, privately held GenPharm, of Palo Alto, Calif., signed a $25 million research and development agreement with Eisai Co. Ltd., a human health care company headquartered in Tokyo. The agreement was renewed in 1995.

MacQuitty explained that the mice can be immunized with a number of different antigens. The Eisai arrangement is around one antigen, Anti-CD4, he said, and the Centocor arrangement is around several antigens, he said.

Eisai retains Asian and European rights to Anti-CD4, while GenPharm retains the U.S. rights, MacQuitty said.

"We are planning to do a number of these types of collaborations with companies that have an interest in making human antibodies to different kinds of specific antigens," MacQuitty said.

GenPharm's technology combined with Centocor's capabilities in commercializing antibodies at therapeutic agents could lead to the first human antibodies from the collaboration entering the clinic in 1998, MacQuitty said. *