Agouron Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced late Thursday that itformed a major strategic alliance with Japan Tobacco Inc. ofTokyo to jointly discover, develop and commercialize noveltherapeutic drugs that act on key proteins related to thehuman immune system.

Although the details of the products targeted in this allianceare "proprietary and confidential, ... these are new proteintargets for Agouron," Donna Nichols, the San Diego company's(NASDAQ:AGPH) director of corporate communications, toldBioWorld.

Agouron brings its strength in protein structure-based drugdesign to the table, while Japan Tobacco (JT) is contributing itsexpertise in cell biology. However, Agouron "will be involved inall stages of drug development," Nichols explained. "Theresearch will be conducted at Agouron and at JT's lab inTokyo." The two partners (or their affiliates) will have co-exclusive rights to market jointly developed productsworldwide.

In accord with this agreement, JT purchased 155,844 shares ofnewly issued, unregistered Agouron stock for $3 million. Thisgives the Japanese conglomerate roughly 2 percent ofAgouron's outstanding stock. (U.S. pharmaceutical giant Eli Lillyand Co. holds an additional 5 percent.)

Agouron also will get a cash infusion from JT over the nextthree to four years, from $21 million to $28 million, pegged onR&D milestones.

Agouron stock closed unchanged Thursday at $13.25.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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