Arris Pharmaceutical Corp. and Amgen Inc. are joining forces todiscover and develop synthetic compounds that mimic theaction of cytokines, Arris announced Tuesday. This three-yearcollaboration pairs Arris' expertise in structure-based drugdesign with Amgen's (NASDAQ:AMGN) proven strength incytokine R&D -- especially erythropoietin (EPO) -- to come upwith small non-peptidic cytokine mimetics that will bind thesuper family of cytokine receptors.

The renewable agreement provides for Amgen of ThousandOaks, Calif., to pay an up-front commitment fee, fund R&D atArris and make milestone payments based on developmentbenchmarks. In return, Amgen gains the rights to developcompounds discovered under the collaboration, as well asworldwide manufacturing and marketing rights. Arris, aprivately held company based in South San Francisco, Calif.,will receive royalties on Amgen sales of licensed products. Thecompanies did not disclose financial terms of the agreement.

Arris' cytokine mimetic research focuses on a particular familyof cytokines whose receptors are closely related structurally."Members of the cytokine receptor family may share a commonpathway for intracellular signaling, which involves a non-covalent association of related tyrosine kinases with thecytoplasmic domain of the receptor," explained John Walker,Arris' president and chief executive officer. This cytokine"super family" was first recognized in 1989 as having acommon domain that binds EPO, human growth hormone andinterleukin-6, Walker explained. Thus, the therapeutic targetsof this research program already have a "clearly demonstratedand significant amount of clinical utility," as well as large, well-defined markets, Walker added. "The programs have researchrisk but no market risk," Walker told BioWorld. In fact, Arrishas been collaborating with the laboratory of Harvey Lodish atthe Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge,Mass., on receptor research relating to EPO and other cytokinessince 1990. Arris also announced Tuesday that it has expandedits collaboration with The Whitehead Institute such that Arrisnow has the rights to findings by Lodish, who is on Arris'scientific advisory board, in all areas of research. "Thisexpanded collaboration feeds our relationships with bothAmgen and Kabi," commented Walker. In April, Arris enteredinto a three-year collaboration with Sweden's Kabi PharmaciaAB on synthetic orally active versions of cytokines to treatinflammatory disease.

Arris generates small molecule leads for structure-based drugdesign by using a system called PILOT (peptide initiated ligandoptimization technology) to create libraries of compounds thatcan be screened for potential leads. Arris feeds the datathrough its artificial intelligence (AI)-based system forstructure-based drug design. "The AI program serves as thelinchpin to take the data and turn them into lead compounds,"explained Walker.

Although not disclosing how much cash the privately heldcompany has on hand, Walker told BioWorld that Arris hassufficient finances to last it through mid-1995 on an"accelerating expense curve."

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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