Charles Craig

NEW YORK _ Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. has reached thefirst two research milestones in its collaboration with Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc., triggering the last of the latter's private equityinvestments in the genomics company.

Millennium, of Cambridge, Mass., and Hoffmann-La Roche, ofBasel, Switzerland, entered into an agreement last March worth up to$70 million over five years to the privately held Millennium. (SeeBioWorld Today, March 30-31, 1994, p. 1.)

Details of the two equity payments announced Thursday in NewYork were not disclosed. But terms of the original agreement calledfor Hoffmann-La Roche to acquire less than a 15 percent interest inMillennium for about $7 million, or less than 10 percent of the total$70 million package.

Steven Holtzman, Millennium's chief business officer, said morethan 50 percent of the total financing from Hoffmann-La Roche isfocused on research support for their collaborations on treatments forobesity and Type II diabetes.

Holtzman, speaking at a conference organized by Robertson,Stephens & Co., of San Francisco, also said Millennium is amongthe companies seeking to license a newly discovered obesity gene.(See BioWorld Today, Dec. 1, 1994, p. 1.)

He would not disclose specifics of the company's negotiations, butBioWorld Today reported in March that the companies' original pactinvolved discovery of therapeutics targeting obesity and diabetes.

Millennium apparently has a significant edge because, JeffreyFriedman, who discovered the gene, is a co-founder of Millenniumand close associate of another Millennium founder, Eric Lander, ofMassachusetts Institute of Technology's Whitehead Institute.Friedman, of Rockefeller University and the Howard HughesMedical Institute, was the lead author of the article in this week'sissue of Nature describing the discovery.

Obesity is considered a polygenic disease and one of the objectivesin the Millennium-Hoffmann collaboration is identifying genesresponsible for the disorder. The Nature article, Holtzman observed,described one of the major genes involved in the disease followingeight years of work.

With advances in genomics, Holtzman added, it will not take as longto identify other obesity-related genes. In Millennium's agreementwith Hoffmann-La Roche, once the genes linked to obesity anddiabetes are identified, the companies will attempt to developdiagnostics and treatments.

Said Holtzman, "There's a world of difference between identifyinga gene and elucidating its function."

The Millennium-Hoffmann agreement only covers programs forobesity and diabetes, allowing Millennium to control development oftreatments for other diseases, such as cardiovascular and centralnervous system disorders as well as asthma and allergies. n

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