A collaboration worth more than $70 million between MillenniumPharmaceuticals Inc., F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. and Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc. appears imminent and could be announced as early astoday. Barring any late-breaking snags, all that remain are finalapprovals."The agreement should be finalized within the next three days,"Millennium's chief executive officer, Mark Levin, told BioWorld onTuesday night.The collaboration involves discovery of novel therapeutics based ongenomics technologies. It covers two disease targets: obesity and TypeII diabetes.Under the terms of the proposed agreement, Hoffmann-La Rochewould get exclusive worldwide rights to small molecule therapeuticapplications of data gathered by using Millennium's proprietarygenomics technologies for obesity and Type II diabetes. Outside NorthAmerica, Roche would get exclusive rights to antisense, protein andgene therapy applications, subject to Roche having an option to co-promote those types of drugs. Roche also would get a worldwideoption on all diagnostic applications.In return, Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. will take an equity position inMillennium, and Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. will provide researchfunding. Most of the $70 million is in research support. Also,Millennium will get preclinical and clinical milestone payments.Specific terms of the deal were not revealed, but sources who asked notto be named said the investment will give Hoffmann-La Roche lessthan a 20 percent equity stake.Roche and Millennium will be working together on obesity- anddiabetes-funded research for five years."We had our first meeting in October of last year, so this progressedvery rapidly," said Sherry Reynolds, who is serving as a consultant forMillennium. She is primarily responsible for negotiating the deal onbehalf of the Cambridge, Mass., company. "There was a comfort andrespect level from the beginning," she said.Levin said the rapid culmination of the deal also had to do with amutual vision the companies share about the future of genomics andgenetics. This is the first collaborative agreement Hoffmann-La Rochewill make into the genomics and genetic technologies.Initial research will be done at Millennium's new 48,000-square-footfacility in Cambridge. Once a gene is identified, the companiestogether will determine its function and the product-developmentopportunities. Research will be directed by a committee made up ofrepresentatives of both companies."The excitement about obesity and diabetes has to do with the largegenetic component of the disease states, and the fact that traditionalbiochemistry over the past decade in the pharmaceutical industry hasshed very little light on these disease states," Levin said."Approximately 80 percent of Type II diabetics are obese, andtherefore we believe the genes that are found to cause obesity and thegenes found to cause diabetes are likely to overlap. Therefore, there is avery strong synergism between the two programs. That's why we'reworking with Roche on both programs together."Obesity affects nearly 100 million people worldwide and is associatedwith a number of complications, such as hypertension and diabetes.Type II diabetes (adult onset, or non-insulin-dependent diabetes)affects about 12.5 million people in the U.S. alone - about 90 percentof those diagnosed with the disease.To research genetic causes of obesity and diabetes, the partners will usethree synergistic approaches. One is Millennium's systems for thelarge-scale automated identification of modulated genes; the second isthe identification of mutant genes in mouse models; and the third isdirect isolation of disease genes through positional cloning and othertechniques.Millennium was formed in January 1993, when the company raised$8.45 million in seed financing led by the Mayfield Fund, where Levinwas formerly a partner.Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, andHoffmann-La Roche Inc. is based in Nutley, N.J.

-- Jim Shrine

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