Athena Neurosciences Inc. on Wednesday announced theformation of a research collaboration with Wyeth-Ayerst, adivision of American Home Products Corp., to develop newtherapeutics based on Athena's technology for blocking thepathological migration of white blood cells to the brain.

The collaboration brings together novel Athena technology andthe financial resources and central nervous system (CNS)product pipeline of Wyeth. In addition, a deal with anotherAHPC company gives Athena an epilepsy product that should beon the market within five years, significantly ahead of otherAthena drugs.

Under the terms of a three-year agreement, Wyeth-Ayerst willprovide an undisclosed amount of money for Athena's cell-trafficking research program and will receive exclusiveworldwide rights to products for stroke, head trauma,migraine headaches and any non-CNS applications that come ofthe research. Athena of South San Francisco, Calif., will retainrights for other neurological diseases, such as multiplesclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and CNS infection.

Each company will receive royalties on sales by the othercompany, as well as co-promotion rights to those products.Wyeth-Ayerst also paid $2 million for 400,000 shares ofAthena stock, giving it a 2 percent equity position in privatelyheld Athena.

The principal goal of the research is to develop products totreat stroke and head injury by blocking the pathologicalmigration, or "trafficking," of white blood cells to the brain.Migration of these cells following stroke and head injurycontributes significantly to brain damage and resultingneurological problems.

Athena researchers believe they have identified a moleculethat is central to the trafficking process. "This is more andmore understood as a receptor-mediated process," saidPaulette Setler, executive vice president of research anddevelopment at Athena. "We've identified a cell surface markerwhich might be a receptor that mediates the process."

Athena will test potential compounds using its proprietarymodel system for analyzing cell-trafficking interactions withthe blood-brain barrier, the company said. No lead compoundshave been identified yet.

Athena also has licensed worldwide rights to an anti-convulsant compound to treat epilepsy from A.H. Robins, asubsidiary of New York-based AHPC. Athena plans to completeclinical development of the drug, AHR 11748, and market it inthe United States and abroad. AHR 11748, which is a smallmolecule, is in Phase II clinical trials in the United States. Itsprecise mode of action isn't known, but it may have an effecton neuronal sodium channels, the company said.

Under the terms of the agreement, Athena will make anundisclosed up-front payment to Robins and future milestonepayments. If the product is commercialized, Athena will payRobins a royalty on sales.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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