Aptamers aplenty for GSK

GSK inks aptamer deal focused on inflammatory disease that could net Archemix $1.4 billion

Chris Anderson
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LONDON—GlaxoSmithKline ended the year with a flurry of activity, most notably with its announcement that it entered into a worldwide strategic alliance with Cambridge, Mass.-based Archemix Corp. to discover, develop and commercialize aptamer therapeutics to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. In total, should each of the seven aptamer targets yield therapeutics, Archemix stands to earn as much as $1.4 billion in this deal.

The alliance with Archemix was only one of a handful of late December deals for the British drug maker and furthers the company's goal of establishing more such partnerships in the biotech and pharma markets.

"This innovative, multitarget drug-discovery deal is an important extension of our externalization strategy and provides GSK with an outstanding opportunity to work with the world leader in aptamer discovery and development," said Jose Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, PhD., senior VP and head of the Immuno-Inflammation Centre of Excellence for Drug Discovery in GSK, in a prepared statement. "The application of aptamers with their unique properties is an exciting opportunity that holds enormous potential for the treatment of many devastating diseases of the immune system."

Archemix, too, has been active. In early November, the privately-held company announced a merger with NitroMed Inc., the maker of the prescription medication BiDil, a heart medication formulated specifically for African-Americans. The proposed merger, which would see Archemix shareholders own 70 percent of the company, is awaiting shareholder approval of both companies and the pending sale of NitroMed's BiDil assets to JHP Pharmaceuticals LLP.

Under the terms of the aptamer agreement with GSK, Archemix will receive $27.5 million in upfront payments from GSK, including a $6.5 million equity investment by GSK in the company. Archemix could also be eligible to receive up to $200 million in development, regulatory and sales milestone payments for each of the seven aptamer therapeutics which may be discovered and developed as part of the alliance. Archemix would also receive tiered royalties up to lower double digits on worldwide sales of products that may result from the alliance.

This is not the first multi-target deal for Archemix. Dating back to the beginning of 2007, the company has forged broad relationships with Merck Serono, Takeda, Pfizer and Merck KGaA with combined potential to pump $1.1 billion into company coffers.
The GSK deal is by far the largest aptamer partnership yet for the company and perhaps indicates a growing interest in aptamer therapeutics.

"We look forward to expanding our efforts in inflammation where aptamers could offer novel options to treat disease," says Errol DeSouza, Ph.D., president and CEO of Archemix. "This is another step forward in our strategy to leverage our intellectual property estate together with our significant internal capabilities in order to develop aptamers for a variety of therapeutic areas with key partners who are experts in their field." DDN

Chris Anderson

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