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Wednesday, January 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wyeth to join Trubion's work

Seattle Times business reporter

A big deal


Trubion Pharmaceuticals reached a partnership deal with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals potentially worth $800 million or more.

Founded in 2002

Employment is at 40, with plans to "expand significantly" in Seattle

Technology is a Small Modular Immunopharmaceutical (SMIP) platform, which allows rapid development of smaller, simpler protein drugs. Initial disease targets include rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

The deal is worth $40 million upfront, plus milestone payments for development of products including TRU-015. Wyeth will pay future development and commercialization costs and gets global rights to the products. The companies will also collaborate to identify new product candidates using the SMIP platform.

Source: The companies

Trubion Pharmaceuticals already had a lot in common with Immunex, the Seattle biotechnology success its founders seek to emulate.

Several of its executives worked at the former Immunex. Its lead product is being tested against rheumatoid arthritis, the same disease Immunex tackled with its one blockbuster drug, Enbrel.

The small biotech company added another similarity Tuesday when it announced a major deal that starts with a $40 million upfront payment from the biotechnology division of global drug maker Wyeth. Wyeth, under its previous name, American Home Products, owned 41 percent of Immunex.

At the very least, the deal has garnered privately held Trubion a lot of cash and national exposure.

With possible milestone payments worth more than $800 million, it ranks among the largest biotech-pharma partnerships formed nationally in the past 12 months.

The development agreement centers on Trubion's proprietary Small Modular Immunopharmaceutical (SMIP) technology platform, which the company uses to make smaller, simpler protein therapeutics.

"This gives Trubion a lot of financial strength and flexibility," said Trubion's chief executive, Dr. Peter Thompson, who sees the same potential in his company's relationship with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

The 40-person Belltown company got the initial $40 million payment and a collaborator who will bear costs to develop and commercialize its lead product, TRU-015, as well as other candidates aimed at cellular markers found on some malignant immune-system cells.

Wyeth, which ranked 11th among drug companies in U.S. sales last year, will also collaborate with Trubion to identify new product candidates.

Wyeth gets global rights to drug candidates discovered and developed jointly, though Trubion will have the option to co-promote some products. The deal also calls for Wyeth to buy Trubion stock should it go public.

Cavan Redmond, head of Wyeth's biotechnology division, said the company was looking for a partner "at the cutting edge of protein discovery."

Wyeth is familiar with the rheumatoid-arthritis market drug. It receives two-thirds of the profits from global sales of Enbrel, Redmond said.

It's the third biotech deal Wyeth has done in the last month. "The vast majority of the products I'm working with [in the biotech division] have some type of partner," Redmond said. "It's a business model that works very well."

Wyeth's stock closed up 43 cents, or almost 1 percent, at $46.50 Tuesday.

The Trubion partnership was helped by established relationships between ex-Immunex scientists, such as Trubion co-founder Ken Mohler, and their counterparts at American Home Products.

Trubion was started under the name GeneCraft in 2002, the same year Amgen acquired Immunex.

Patrick Heron, general partner with Seattle's Frazier Healthcare Ventures, an early investor in Trubion, said the company's founders had "the vision of creating the next Immunex and specifically leveraging the talent that was coming available from the Amgen-Immunex transaction."

Trubion's SMIP technology platform allows development of therapeutic proteins just one-third to one-half the size of antibodies, a common biotech product category.

The smaller drugs can reach sites within diseased tissue more effectively than larger drugs, Thompson said, and the technology rapidly generates product candidates.

"Trubion is a company that is just three years old now, yet we have been able to bring a product through into Phase 2 clinical trials in that time frame, while building a large and expanding pipeline behind it," he said.

Trubion began enrolling rheumatoid-arthritis patients in a TRU-015 trial in the third quarter of 2005. Another product in advanced preclinical development, TRU-016, aims to hit a target linked with cancers such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The company plans to "expand significantly in Seattle" to support further development, Thompson said.

Bob Nelsen, managing director of Arch Venture Partners in Seattle, another member of the syndicate of original investors who put in $45 million, said the deal will elevate the visibility of the company and Seattle.

"Given the hots and colds of the Seattle biotech market in the last year, we're glad that we're starting out the new year with a big one," he said.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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