CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—In a move that will expand its oncology pipeline, and perhaps its neurological and immunological discovery efforts, Biogen Idec announced in early May the signing of a definitive merger agreement for the acquisition of Conforma Therapeutics Corp., a privately held biopharmaceutical company focused on the design and development of novel drugs for the treatment of cancer.
Conforma, founded in 1999, is focused on the discovery and development of drugs that inhibit heat shock protein 90 (HSP90) molecules, which help protect and support the growth of a broad range of tumor types and which play a role in tumors resisting a number of leading cancer therapies. The company has advanced two compounds into Phase I clinical trials: CNF1010, a proprietary form of the geldanamycin derivative 17-AAG; and CNF2024, a totally synthetic, orally bioavailable HSP90 inhibitor.
"Global leadership in oncology—from discovery to development to commercialization—is a major strategic objective for Biogen Idec," says James C. Mullen, Biogen Idec's president and CEO. "Conforma's platforms in the promising area of HSP90 antagonists provide significant opportunities to develop drugs for a range of solid tumors. Through this transaction, Biogen Idec will also broaden our therapeutic opportunities in the cancer field while adding Conforma's talented scientific team to our oncology group."
The addition of Conforma's resources and talents to Biogen Idec is certainly a boon for drug development, but Dr. Lawrence C. Fritz, the founder, president and CEO of Conforma, seems at least as excited—perhaps more so—by the discovery prospects that could come after the merger. The function of chaperone proteins in cells has been intriguing for Conforma in the oncology realm because of the ability to encourage cell death or cell survival. But in the background all this time—because Conforma had limited resources—were applications for other conditions.
"We see potential for use in degenerative diseases, for example, and we were very excited about that in the beginning," Fritz recalls. "But we didn't really go down that path. This potential isn't something that's been ignored by us, but we really had to put it on the back burner as we advanced our cancer therapies."
Fritz sees the greater connections and resources of Biogen as the means to step up that area of exploration, particularly to determine whether drugs based on Conforma's compounds might be useful for neurodegenerative diseases that are related to protein folding. Such disease would include Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and perhaps even Alzheimer's disease.
Even beyond that realm, Fritz notes that Biogen has historically been very active in the autoimmune area and he expresses optimism that HSP90 antagonists may be able to treat autoimmune diseases "in the fullness of time."
At press time, the transaction was expected to close in the second quarter of 2006. Under the agreement, Biogen Idec would acquire all of the issued and outstanding shares of the capital stock of Conforma for $150 million, payable at closing, and up to an additional $100 million upon the achievement of certain development milestones.