The University of Massachusetts Medical Center (UMMC) said a$42 million licensing agreement it signed with Pasteur Merieux-Connaught is among the 10 largest biotechnology deals signed by aU.S. university.

The deal centers around DNA vaccine work coming from the lab ofHarriet Robinson, a UMMC pathology professor who developedtechnology to stimulate immune responses through introduction ofgenetic material from a disease organism.

Pasteur Merieux-Connaught, a Rhone-Poulenc S.A. company withNorth American headquarters in Toronto and Swiftwater, Pa.,obtained worldwide exclusive rights to develop, manufacture and sellvaccine products against 13 diseases.

Among the vaccine targets are HIV, hepatitis B and C, influenza,tuberculosis, malaria and certain cancers, said UMMC spokesmanMark Shelton. University researchers have delivered the DNA inanimal tests via mucosal, parenteral and gene-gun inoculations, butPasteur Merieux can deliver vaccine candidates any way it finds mostefficacious, he said.

"This is by far the biggest licensing agreement the university hasmade," Shelton said.

The agreement includes a licensing fee, sponsored research support,milestone payments and royalties on product sales. UMMC said thedeal is valued at $42 million, which doesn't include the sponsoredresearch and royalty aspects. Shelton said the initial license fee is$500,000, meaning there is more than $40 million in potentialmilestones.

Some of Robinson's work has been funded by individual investigatorgrants from the National Institutes of Health. Basic scienceresearchers who receive funding from certain federal sources mustseek commercial licensing and development outlets for their work,Shelton said.

Under a recent policy change at UMMC, faculty members, undercertain circumstances, now can start a business based on work doneat the university, Shelton said. A number of biotech start-upcompanies began that way, with help from venture capitalists.

But incentives remain for university researchers to stay, which iswhat Robinson and her team did at UMMC. Shelton said PasteurMerieux payments will be allocated among the pathology department,the university research enterprise, the medical center and others. Inaddition all Robinson's work will be supported now by thecommercial partner.

Shelton said it will be about two years until the first vaccinecandidates are taken into human clinical trials. He said Robinson andcolleagues have done extensive animal work.

Animal data involving delivery of the vaccine was published in theDec. 15, 1993, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 29, 1993, p. 1.) Additionalwork has been submitted for publication in science journals, Sheltonsaid.

Nucleic acid vaccines are made from purified DNA from the genes ofdisease organisms, such as a virus. The DNA is introduced viainoculation, taken up by the cells and produces an immune response.One advantage to this method is that DNA vaccines actually make theimmunizing protein within the body's cells.

Shelton said university personnel assigned the deal a top 10 rankingin terms of value after a literature search. The value of someuniversity deals are not disclosed. Shelton said the largest universitydeal involved Rockefeller University in New York licensing rights toan obesity gene to Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif. That March1995 deal involved a $20 million up-front payment and another $60million to $70 million in milestones. n

-- Jim Shrine

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.