Privately-held Canji Inc., which is developing tumor suppressor genetechnology, signed a major collaboration with Schering-PloughCorp. that could be worth as much as $50 million to the Californiabiotechnology company.The agreement gives Schering-Plough, of Madison, N.J., rights toSan Diego-based Canji's p53 gene therapy for treatment of cancer.Financial details were not released, but Schering-Plough has made anup-front cash investment in Canji and will make additional annualpayments based on development milestones.M. Blake Ingle, Canji's president and CEO, told BioWorld the initialSchering-Plough investment "secures our financing for the companyfor the next 19 to 21 months."The up-front payment, Ingle added, gives Schering-Plough a "small"equity interest in Canji, which was founded in 1990.Schering-Plough spokesman Steve Galpin said that if all milestonesare reached in the collaboration, the pharmaceutical company willcontribute as much as $50 million to Canji "over the next severalyears." Galpin said the agreement is Schering-Plough's first ventureinto gene therapy.Neither Galpin nor Ingle would detail the milestones to be achieved.The collaboration initially will target p53 gene therapy for treatmentof liver cancer. Ingle said the companies expect to apply for aninvestigational new drug application with the FDA in the second halfof 1995.Under terms of the agreement, Schering-Plough will be responsiblefor clinical trials. Canji also would receive royalties on productsmarketed.Ingle said the Schering-Plough collaboration does not cover Canji'sother tumor suppressor gene programs, such as therapies involvingretinoblastoma genes.Canji's gene therapy technology uses an adenovirus vector to carryhealthy p53 genes to cancer tumors in an effort stop growth andinduce the tumor cells to self-destruct. Defective p53 genes havebeen associated with about 50 percent of all cancer. When they arenormal, p53 genes are believed to help block uncontrolled cellproliferation.Canji's researchers said preclinical testing has shown that restoringhealthy p53 genes prevents cancer cells from producing tumors inmost cases.

-- Charles Craig

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