Affymax N.V. and Marion Merrell Dow Inc. said Thursday thatthey have entered into a strategic alliance to develop drugs totreat arthritis, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

MMDI of Kansas City, Mo., will fund research using Affymax'sdrug-discovery technologies to focus on specific moleculartargets. The projects, which Affymax began in April, includefinding antagonists to cell surface receptors, said DavidSinger, director of business development at Affymax. Thecompany is headquartered in Amsterdam,the Netherlands, butconducts its research in the United States through its AffymaxResearch Institute subsidiary in Palo Alto, Calif.

MMDI will purchase an equity interest in Affymax and provideresearch and development funding in exchange for an option forworldwide exclusive rights to market compounds discovered byAffymax under the agreement. Affymax will receive milestonepayments and royalties on sales. Specific terms were notdisclosed.

Singer said the research will use two Affymax drug-discoverytechnologies: very large-scale immobilized polymer synthesis(VLSIPS) and recombinant peptide diversity.

VLSIPS can rapidly screen more than 1,000 compounds for anability to bind to a biologically active molecule, such as areceptor, monoclonal antibody or DNA sequence.

The technology uses light to direct the building of chemicalstructures on the surface of a glass chip. The chip surface iscovered with linker molecules with chemical groups to whichamino acids can bind.

Recombinant peptide diversity uses a biological system toachieve a similar end. Random sets of nucleotides are splicedinto bacteriophages, which reproduce in E. coli bacteria. Thepopulation of phages is then mixed with a target receptor, andthose phages that bind to the receptor are isolated.

Privately held Affymax was established in 1988. The alliancewith MMDI is the company's first partnership. Affymax expectsto announce further alliances this year. In May, the companyraised $26 million in a private placement.

MMDI has a strategic partnership with another biotechcompany, Gensia Pharmaceuticals Inc. of San Diego(NASDAQ:GNSA), to develop products to treat cardiovascularand cardiocerebral diseases.

-- Karen Bernstein BioWorld Staff

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