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CombiMatrix and Benitec enter broad cross-licensing and collaboration deal
April 2005
by Chris Anderson  |  Email the author
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—Microarray company CombiMatrix and RNAi therapeutics firm Benitec entered into a broad cross-licensing and collaboration agreement in late February that makes virtually all of the two company's patents and intellectual property available to each other for use in each firm's research and development activities.
 
Licenses granted to Benitec by CombiMatrix include the IP related to the use of cocktails, or pools of siRNA, as therapeutics against viral diseases and will aid in Benitec's ongoing RNAi research programs aimed at hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Combi-Matrix, in turn, was granted non-exclusive license to Benitec's portfolio of 10 patented and 60 patent-pending technologies to aid in the development of RNAi therapeutics for the treatment and prevention of injuries or diseases resulting from exposure to biological, chemical, radioactive or other weapons.
 
"This is a very close collaboration be-tween our two companies and we see this agreement as a way to move forward with our business strategy while applying our IP more broadly," says Amit Kumar, president and CEO of CombiMatrix.
 
The licensing deal comes at a time when CombiMatrix has received substantial funds over the past few years from the U.S. government for its work in the area of biothreat detection. Now, with the IP from Benitec, it can accelerate its research into possible RNAi therapies for the treatment of specific diseases and agents, which could be delivered by weapons of mass destruction.
 
Benitec's ongoing therapeutic development programs in HCV and HIV will benefit from CombiMatrix's IP, which uses pools of siRNA as viral therapeutics. It also includes a sublicense to two specific sequences that target key genes of HIV, which CombiMatrix had previously licensed from its research partner the irsiCaixa Foundation of Barcelona, Spain.
 
While no money changed hands initially as part of the cross-license agreement, Benitec CEO Sara Cunningham says the deal helps both companies solidify their positions in the market. "What we needed as a company was validation that our IP was worth licensing and even though no money was involved, it proves that our IP has value to a company like CombiMatrix," she says.
 
Likewise, for CombiMatrix, the deal broadens the scope of the company to include more than CustomArray, its customizable microarray line and flagship product. "What they needed was to add some 'blue sky' to their company and add a therapeutic play," says Cunningham.
 
In addition to the cross-licensing deals, the two companies have also agreed to collaborate on research using CombiMatrix microarrays to study the possible off-target effects of RNAi therapeutics."These arrangements couple our strengths and should greatly benefit both companies," Kumar notes.
 
Cunningham's view is similar, if pointedly pragmatic. "Short- to mid-term revenue right now all comes from licensing. Even with RNAi, it is going to be five to eight years before they start on the market and the two clinical indications we picked aren't the easiest," she says. "We have a decently long road ahead of us."
 
Code: E040515

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