Brought together naturally

AMRI announces research and licensing agreement with Genentech related to natural product-based antibacterials

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ALBANY, N.Y.—Bringing together its hybrid nature as both contract research organization (CRO) and as a drug discovery company, AMRI in early January sealed a deal with Genentech, a member of the Roche Group. The focus of that research and licensing agreement is on a family of antibacterial compounds discovered from AMRI's proprietary research of its natural products sample collection.

"The major part of AMRI is our services operation—the fee-for-service CRO aspect, in which we work with and dialogue with many biotechs and pharmas all the time," notes Dr. Bruce J. Sargent, AMRI's senior vice president of drug discovery. "But this particular announcement we made, while it started on the fee-for-service side, also brings in the other aspect of AMRI, which is our internal drug discovery operation."

As part of its service side, AMRI offers companies the chance to access its collection of compounds and leads for a fee, to see if there are any promising compounds the client company might want to pursue, including natural product-based compounds. In parallel with that, AMRI has discovery programs it pursues, including those in the area of natural products—some of which are antibacterial in nature.

"So, you can see a convergence here," Sargent says, "We've always felt there might be a situation where we're talking about a fee-for-service look at our collection, and then that might swell into something bigger, where the company sees that we're already ahead of their curve, and since we have something that's half-cooked already, why not take it the rest of the way?"

To Sargent's knowledge, this deal with Genentech is the first time that such a situation has occurred precisely this way at AMRI.

"This hybrid nature of our business, between the fee-for-service and drug discovery, does allow us to have interesting conversations with people," he says, "but more commonly it's a 'Good to know you have that, but you can do something from our program instead in a similar manner?' Either that, or we do conventional license deals with our drug discovery programs."

Under the terms of the agreement, Genentech will receive an exclusive license to develop and commercialize multiple potential products from AMRI's proprietary antibacterial program. Additionally, AMRI will collaborate with Genentech in a research program with the objective of identifying novel antibacterial agents. In addition to an upfront license fee and research funding, AMRI will be eligible to receive development and regulatory milestones and will receive royalties from Genentech on worldwide sales of any resulting commercialized compounds.

The license agreement results from work conducted at AMRI in a drug discovery program which leveraged AMRI's extensive natural product libraries, high-throughput screening capabilities and natural product chemistry expertise. The leading compound is said to be a "highly potent" antibacterial agent.
Sargent is pleased to see AMRI's strengths and experience in small-molecule drug discovery, biology and chemistry come together with Genentech's leading position in novel drug discovery and development, he says, adding, "As resistance to existing drugs continues to emerge, there is an urgent need for new antibiotic agents."

Speaking to the issue of natural products in general, Sargent says that people often ask about the role and importance of natural products in drug discovery "and my answer is that they are an important part of things. A great many of the drugs out there on the market have some kind of roots—no pun intended—in natural products. It's an area the industry has moved away form them over the past 10 or 15 years, and AMRI is one of relatively few that can provide natural product drug discovery expertise."

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