Theraclone and Pfizer enter into infectious disease and cancer antibody discovery collaboration

Pfizer could pay as much as $632 million in upfront fees and milestones

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SEATTLE—Theraclone Sciences Inc., a therapeutic antibody discovery and development company, has announced the penning of a multi-year research and development collaboration with Pfizer, using Theraclone's I-STAR technology to discover broadly protective monoclonal antibodies against up to four undisclosed targets in the areas of infectious disease and cancer.

Under the terms of the agreement, Theraclone and Pfizer will embark on a discovery program to identify broadly reactive antibodies directed against as many as two infectious disease targets and as many as two cancer targets. Pfizer will receive an exclusive worldwide license to any therapeutic antibodies discovered under the collaboration.

Although Pfizer could end up paying as much as $632 million in total, neither company has revealed how much of that is the upfront payment and how much consists of milestone payments upon the achievement of discovery, development, regulatory and commercialization milestones—nor have the companies disclosed how much in terms of royalties Theraclone could earn on sales of any developed products. However, Pfizer has noted it will be responsible for preclinical and clinical development of the antibodies. On Theraclone's side, Dr. Steven Gillis, interim CEO of Theraclone and managing director of ARCH Venture Partners, has acknowledged that between 30 percent and 40 percent of the deal—between $189 million and $252 million—represents "near term money," presumably a combination of the upfront fee and milestones prior to Phase II clinical trials.

Theraclone's I-STAR technology is used to screen and identify novel human antibodies to pathogenic agents and endogenous therapeutic targets and to rapidly test the function of tens of thousands of natural human antibodies and find those with what seem to be exceptional biologic activity.

"The I-STAR platform has been designed to discover broadly reactive, potent antibodies with high specificity for valuable targets," says Gillis. "This collaboration with Pfizer, and the recent published success of I-STAR to identify unique antibodies against novel targets in HIV and influenza, increase confidence in Theraclone's approach to search the human immune repertoire to isolate rare and powerful human antibodies that may be of use in the treatment of multiple diseases."

"Antibodies represent a very exciting class of biotherapeutics for Pfizer to combat infectious disease and are a proven approach to cancer treatment," notes Jose-Carlos Gutiérrez-Ramos, Pfizer's senior vice president of Worldwide BioTherapeutics Research & Development. "Theraclone's platform technology represents an important advancement in fully-human therapeutic antibody discovery, which we believe has the potential to deliver a new generation of improved therapeutic antibodies more efficiently."

The New York Times, in a story about the deal, likened this one with a similar but smaller deal earlier in January, in which Pfizer agreed to pay Seattle Genetics about $8 million upfront and as much as $200 million over time to use its antibody technology against cancer targets.

Theraclone has received other investments related to its antibody work as well, including financing from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative for an experimental antibody to AIDS, and from the Tokyo-based drug maker Zenyaku Kogyo for an antibody to influenza.

Pfizer notes that it already has 15 to 20 antibodies in clinical development, bolstered in part by the acquisition of Boren in 2005 and Wyeth in 2009.

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