Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Syntex Corp. announcedtoday that they have formed a collaboration worth upward of$15 million to discover novel drugs for treating arthritis andcertain malignant tumors.

Syntex (NYSE:SYN) will provide Agouron with $8.5 million inresearch funding over the next three years, with an option topay out another $3.5 million to extend the collaboration for afourth year. As well, Syntex of Palo Alto, Calif., has purchased155,844 newly issued shares of Agouron stock (NASDAQ:AGPH)for $19.25 per share. For its $3 million in stock, Syntex receivesa "little more than 2 percent" equity in Agouron of San Diego,explained Donna Nichols, Agouron's director of corporatecommunications.

The focus of the collaborative program is the design anddevelopment of selective inhibitors of one or more matrixmetalloproteases (MMPs), a class of enzymes that has beenimplicated in the degradation of connective tissue in severaldisease states, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoidarthritis. There is also evidence that MMPs play key roles inthe metastasis of malignant tumors. Agouron and Syntex willcollaborate to design and develop orally active small moleculedrugs that selectively inhibit these enzymes and halt thedisease processes which they mediate.

"The collaboration plays to the strengths of both companies,"commented Peter Johnson, Agouron's president and chiefexecutive officer. Agouron will contribute its skill andexperience in rational drug design based on the molecularstructures of proteins that play key roles in human disease,while Syntex will bring its expertise in the field of arthritisresearch and pharmaceutical development to the collaboration.

"Syntex is the premier development partner in arthritis, with awell-established presence in the market," explained Agouron'sNichols. In fact, Syntex has been marketing Naprosyn, one of itsprescription drugs for treating the pain and inflammation ofarthritis, since 1976, according to Linda Thomas, Syntex'smanager of media relations. Syntex is also investigatingcompounds for treating the disease rather than its symptoms,Thomas explained. The company has "many R&D programsaimed at a variety of targets, including MMPs," she toldBioWorld. In its collaboration with Agouron, Syntex is"contributing its expertise in the MMP area so that the jointventure can then discover new MMPs," Thomas said.

Under the terms of the agreement, Syntex will have theexclusive worldwide right to develop and market productsincorporating collaboratively discovered MMP inhibitors indefined therapeutic areas, including arthritis. Agouron willhave the exclusive worldwide right to develop and marketcollaboratively discovered MMP inhibitors in definedtherapeutic areas, including cancer. The two companies will payroyalties to each other based on their respective sales of suchproducts. Agouron's stock was up 25 cents a share on Tuesday,closing at $8.50.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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

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