Medarex Inc. and Centeon LLC reached an agreement to jointlydevelop a humanized monoclonal antibody for blood-relatedautoimmune disorders.

The product, MDX-33, is the "trigger antibody" used in Medarex'sbispecific antibodies, which link fragments of monoclonal antibodiesto bind to both diseased cells and immune system killer cells. MDX-33 is designed to inactivate the killer cells _ such as monocytes,macrophages and other white cells _ that destroy healthy cells as aresult of autoimmune disorders.

Medarex, of Annandale, N.J., will get a $1 million technology accessfee up front and $1 million over three years to fund manufacturingimprovement. Centeon also will pay up to $20 million to funddevelopment through Phase II, and then would finance all costsassociated with Phase III trials, regulatory approvals and commerciallaunch. Medarex could receive an additional $10 million uponattaining certain milestones.

Centeon, of King of Prussia, Pa., is a joint venture with a focus onplasma proteins formed between Armour Pharmaceutical Inc., asubsidiary of Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc., of Collegeville, Pa., andBehringwerke AG, a subsidiary of Frankfurt, Germany-basedHoechst AG.

Centeon will have exclusive worldwide marketing rights to MDX-33for autoimmune hematological disorders. Medarex will get royaltieson sales and may keep manufacturing rights.

The lead indication for the antibody is idiopathic thrombocytopenicpurpura. In a pilot study one patient was treated with a murineversion of the antibody, said Michael Appelbaum, senior vicepresident, finance and administration, for Medarex.

Appelbaum said the collaboration stemmed from a presentationMedarex made at a conference a year and a half ago concerningMDX-33. An Armour official in the audience took interest anddiscussions got under way, he said.

Appelbaum said the $20 million commitment from Centeon shouldtake the program through Phase II. The agreement covers only blood-related disorders but the product could have applications in otherautoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.There's no right of first refusal for other indications in the agreement,but Medarex would talk to Centeon if it decides to develop MDX-33in other areas.

"This is our third major corporate collaboration, and that's veryimportant to Medarex," Appelbaum said. "The opportunity tocollaborate with Centeon and its parent companies providesadditional validation to Medarex's science."

Medarex and Ciba-Geigy Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland, are developingthe bispecific antibody, MDX-210, for cancers that express the HER-2 protein. Phase II trials are expected to start this summer. MerckKGaA, of Darmstadt, Germany, is collaborating with Medarex onMDX-447, which is being investigated in Phase I/II studies forcancers that express epidermal growth factor receptors.

On its own Medarex is developing MDX-11 and MDX-22, which arein Phase II for leukemia, and MDX-240, which is in Phase I/II forHIV.

News of the deal with Centeon was released Friday. Medarex(NASDAQ:MEDX) shares gained 25 cents Friday and another 50cents Monday to close at $7.25. n

-- Jim Shrine

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