By Charles Craig

Suntory Ltd. and Icos Corp. formed a $30 million joint venture company, called Suncos Corp., to develop recombinant platelet-activating factor acetylhydrolase (PAF-AH) as a treatment for inflammatory disorders, such as asthma and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Suntory, of Tokyo, is contributing $30 million in cash to launch Suncos while Icos, of Seattle, is supplying the potential drug, PAF-AH, which was valued at $30 million. The companies will share equally in future expenses.

Lacy Fitzpatrick, Icos' manager of investor relations, said PAF-AH is a naturally occurring enzyme that breaks down platelet-activating factor (PAF), whose over-
production is associated with inflammatory diseases.

Suncos initially will target ARDS, asthma and acute pancreatitis with the PAF antagonist. A Phase I trial in 1996 showed the treatment was safe. Several Phase II trials are planned this year.

Fitzpatrick said the Icos-Suntory collaboration was modeled after Amgen Inc.'s successful joint venture with Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd., of Tokyo. Amgen and Kirin teamed up in 1984 to develop erythropoietin (Epogen) and expanded their joint venture in 1986 to include another potential protein drug, granulocyte-stimulating factor (Neupogen).

Epogen, a red blood cell booster, and Neupogen, a white blood cell booster, are Amgen's only marketed products, generating $2 billion in annual sales for the Thousand Oaks, Calif., company.

Fitzpatrick said Icos favored a joint venture over a product licensing deal because "it's been found you get much more of a commitment from your partner. You get management commitment and financial commitment."

Suntory will market the product in Japan and Icos will sell it in the U.S. Suncos, which will receive royalties from sales in those two regions, retained rights to the drug in Europe and elsewhere.

Suntory's interest in PAF-AH, Fitzpatrick said, stemmed from the company's own research on the enzyme.

Icos' stock (NASDAQ:ICOS) closed Thursday at $8.312, unchanged from the day before. *