The Immune Response Corp. (IRC) announced Monday that ithas signed a letter of intent to acquire TargeTech Inc. ofMeriden, Conn.

The acquisition is expected to take place by the end ofNovember, if not sooner, according to Henry Nordhoff,TargeTech's chief executive officer.

Under the terms of the deal, IRC of Carlsbad, Calif., would pay$3 million in cash and issue 1,325,000 shares of the company'scommon stock (NASDAQ:IMNR) to acquire privately heldTargeTech. If the acquisition is not completed, IRC would makea $3 million investment in TargeTech, which will "basicallyprotect our down side should the deal not close," said Nordhoff.

Immune Response stock closed at $13.38 a share on Monday,up 50 cents.

IRC is interested in TargeTech's core technology, an in-vivogene therapy, currently in preclinical trials, designed to target"gene drugs" specifically to a receptor on liver cells.

TargeTech uses a ligand (a targeting agent), which has both alinker and the DNA itself attached to it, allowing the ligand totarget receptors on liver cells. This method introduces atherapeutic gene into liver cells, where the gene is expressedand produces a protein without the use of retroviral vectors.

With this approach the gene can be injected, providing forrapid uptake by the liver cells. Nordhoff told BioWorld thatTargeTech scientists have been able to express protein rapidlyusing this method in animal models.

Nordhoff said that TargeTech had been working on a privateround of financing, but canceled it for IRC's letter of intent,which gives TargeTech access to more capital.

"We have a very powerful technology, and the acquisition willenable us to get products to trial much quicker," said Nordhoff.He added that TargeTech's gene therapy has significant marketpotential because it lends itself well as a classic hospitalinjectable product as opposed to less-efficient ex-vivo methods.

TargeTech's technology fits well with IRC's own expertise in itstwo core development areas: an HIV therapeutic vaccine and T-cell receptor peptide vaccines in autoimmune disease, adding athird core technology in the area of gene therapy to IRC'sportfolio.

"It creates new product opportunities for IRC, including thetreatment of hepatitis, cancer, cardiovascular disease andcertain genetic disorders," said Dennis Carlo, IRC's chiefscientific officer.

David Stone, an analyst with Cowen & Co. in Boston, said theacquisition would be a positive move for IRC, particularly forthe long term. "It broadens their technology base, which is atpresent solely a vaccine therapy company."

-- Michelle Slade Associate Editor

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