Sugen Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., announced Monday that ithas formed an alliance with Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) ofThousand Oaks, Calif., to pursue receptor-based drug discoveryand commercialization in the narrow field ofmegakaryocytopoiesis and the broad area of neurobiology.

Amgen will fund four years of collaborative research, and hasbought a 10 percent stake in Sugen.

The collaborators will exploit Sugen's portfolio of receptortyrosine kinases and receptor tyrosine phosphatases, which arekey receptors in regulating cellular functions such as growth, aswell as Sugen's "tools and capabilities to define veryspecifically the functionality of individual receptors in thesefamilies," said Stephen Evans-Freke, Sugen's chief executiveofficer.

One research program is focused on finding means to stimulateblood platelets (megakaryocytopoiesis). "It's complementary toAmgen's products Neupogen and Epogen for stimulating theproduction of white blood cells and red blood cells," said ArthurAltschul, Jr., Sugen's director of planning and investor relations."There aren't many ways to treat platelet deficiencies."

But the collaborative program for neurobiology covers allindications in neurological disease. "It's vague," Altschul toldBioWorld, "because we're looking for novel targets in diseasedtissues that seem to be causative for that disease. We're lookingfor tyrosine kinase and tyrosine phosphorylase receptors thatseem to be dysfunctional."

Altschul explained that this approach represents a new modeof drug discovery. "Instead of first looking for a compound thatwill be effective as a drug and then isolating and reproducingit, we first look at the target and then screen for the drug. Ifyou find a target that is causal in a disease, then the risk offinding a drug lead that will hit that target -- and thus have atherapeutic benefit -- is greatly reduced."

Under the four-year collaboration Amgen will fund researchteams gathered specifically for this purpose. The collaborativeeffort will be led by Sugen's co-chief scientists Axel Ullrich ofthe Max-Planck-Institut fur Biochemie in Munich and JosephSchlessinger of New York University Medical Center, who willremain in their own institutions. Both companies will co-promote any resulting products in domestic markets and shareprofits from a joint product and licensing agreement. They willcollaborate in some areas overseas, but retain their ownexclusive territories.

Sugen, which already has $15 million in the bank, will discussthis collaboration Wednesday at Hambrecht & Quist's 11thAnnual Life Sciences Conference in San Francisco.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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