Scios Inc. announced Monday a five-year, $10.5 million jointventure with Marion Merrell Dow Inc. (MMD) to develop newtherapies for Alzheimer's disease.

MMD of Kansas City, Mo., was looking for a collaborativepartner, and Scios met the match, Barbara Cordell, Scios' vicepresident, said Monday. Under the agreement, MMD(NYSE:MKC) gets exclusive worldwide rights to develop andmarket Alzheimer's drugs developed by the collaboration.

The deal also gives MMD access to Scios' transgenic mousemodel for Alzheimer's, which could prove useful in screeningcompounds as potential treatments for the disease. Scios'mouse was the only one of three such disease models toemerge unscathed from sharp criticism following publication inscientific journals during the past year. Scios has filed a U.S.patent application covering the mouse, which bears DNA codingfor the precursor protein of beta-amyloid, which forms theplaques found in the brain tissue of Alzheimer's patients.

The deal grants Scios (NASDAQ:SCIO) of Mountain View, Calif.,the right of first review to certain undisclosed cardiovascularand tissue repair products now in MMD research that the largercompany may someday decide to out-license. In addition to$10.5 million in research funding over five years, Scios alsostands to receive from MMD milestone payments for attainingresearch objectives, plus royalties on sales of any resultingproducts from the collaboration.

Cardiovascular and tissue repair are key areas of interest forScios, said Richard Casey, Scios' president and CEO. Access toany new products from MMD could help the company as itlooks ahead to a previously announced merger with NovaPharmaceuticals Inc. of Baltimore, now planned for September,he said. "The merger will bring together a salesforce 80-strong,and we will want to be able to add to the basket of productsthat we have already," Casey said.

On the Alzheimer's project, MMD and Scios will focus ondeveloping pharmaceuticals to prevent the formation of beta-amyloid deposits or plaques in the brains of Alzheimer'spatients. "The aim of our collaboration is to continue to advancethe understanding of beta-amyloid formation at the molecularlevel, an approach we believe will lead to the discovery ofinnovative pharmaceutical products for Alzheimer's disease,"Casey said.

Considered by some observers a big contribution to thecollaboration, Scios' transgenic mouse model for Alzheimer'swas described by the company in the July 18, 1991, edition ofNature. It appears to have fared better, post-publication, thantwo other Alzheimer's mice models.

"It's certainly withstood more scrutiny than the other models,"said Richard F. Pops, president and CEO of Alkermes Inc. ofCambridge, Mass., which is developing an Alzheimer'stherapeutic and a broader program aimed at movingintravenous drugs through the body's blood-brain barrier.

Last March, developers of two other transgenic mouse modelsfor Alzheimer's -- Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co. and MilesResearch -- retracted published studies of their models. In onecase, results attained by U.S. researchers associated withYamanounchi's transgenic mouse for Alzheimer's could not bereplicated by another team of researchers. In the second case,Miles Research Center of West Haven, Conn., withdrew itscandidate for a transgenic mouse model because otherresearchers found amyloid-like deposits in non-transgenic miceof similar breeding backgrounds.

The Scios-MMD collaboration will involve researchers at Scios'facilities in Mountain View and MMD's neuroscience groups inCincinnati and Strasbourg, France. Cordell declined to reveal theexact numbers of personnel involved.

Other companies working on transgenic animal models forAlzheimer's -- and potential therapeutics -- include AthenaNeurosciences Inc. of South San Francisco, Calif., and CephalonInc., which has plans to collaborate with DNX Corp. About adozen companies have announced programs to developAlzheimer's therapeutics. Among those with large effortsunderway are Regeneron, in collaboration with Amgen Inc.;Synergen Inc. with Syntex Corp., which aim to file aninvestigational new drug (IND) application next year; andGenentech Inc. Studying possible applications of gene therapyto treat the disease are Somatix Therapy Corp. andTranskaryotic Therapies Inc.

-- Michelle Slade Associate Editor

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