Seattle’s Theraclone Strikes $18M Deal to Make Flu-Fighting Antibodies with Japanese Company

10/5/09Follow @xconomy

Theraclone Sciences has formed a partnership with a Japanese drug company, worth as much as $18 million over time, to discover new antibodies that could broadly protect millions of people in a flu pandemic.

Seattle-based Theraclone has formed the alliance with Tokyo-based Zenyaku Kogyo, which markets a blockbuster antibody drug for cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, called rituximab (Rituxan), in Japan. The deal calls for Theraclone to give Zenyaku an option to exclusive rights to new flu antibodies in Asia and certain Pacific Ocean countries, which can be used for treatments and vaccines. In return, Theraclone gets an undisclosed portion of the $18 million in upfront cash, and royalties on future product sales in Zenyaku’s territories. Theraclone also keeps exclusive commercial rights to the flu antibodies it discovers in the rest of the world, says CEO David Fanning.

The deal comes one month after Theraclone and its collaborators made international news when a paper in Science described how they had discovered a pair of new antibodies with ability to broadly neutralize many variations of the HIV virus that circulate around the world. Theraclone has long said that its method can be applied to the discovery of antibodies for multiple pathogens, including flu. That’s because it looks for clues from blood samples of people who are naturally protected from infection, finds the natural antibodies that seem to be protective, and then genetically engineers copies of them that can made into injectable drugs for people who lack those specific antibodies.

The global headlines couldn’t have come at a better time for Theraclone. When I interviewed Fanning for that story last month, he was in Japan negotiating the deal with Zenyaku, making a case that the HIV discovery work could also be applied to flu. It certainly didn’t hurt his position.

“That’s right, those were the guys I was meeting with then,” Fanning says with a smile.

Flu has been a top priority of public health officials this year, particularly since June 11, when the director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, declared a global flu pandemic with 30,000 confirmed cases in 74 countries. Major flu vaccine makers like Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis have been taking immediate action to see if they can use lower doses of existing vaccine this flu season—to stretch out capacity in order to protect millions more people—but the pandemic has also sparked renewed interest at the lab bench among companies with newer ideas like Theraclone.

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