Emerald Biostructures Gets 3-Year Extension of UCB Drug Partnership

10/26/11Follow @xconomy

Emerald Biostructures‘ biggest customer is renewing its contract for another three years, and giving Emerald a piece of the action if it can help lay the foundation for new commercial drugs.

Bainbridge Island, WA-based Emerald is announcing today that it has gotten a 3-year extension of its collaboration with UCB, a 3.2-billion-euro company in Belgium that makes drugs for neurological and immunological disorders. Financial terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, but Emerald will get research fees, plus milestone payments and royalties if anything from the collaboration turns into a marketed product. While the original deal called for Emerald to work on a single biological target for inflammatory disease, the extension calls for Emerald to work on multiple targets that may be useful for other therapeutic classes, says Diana Wetmore, Emerald’s vice president of business development.

“It’s the single biggest contract we have,” Wetmore says. “It’s very exciting we have such a long-term commitment to collaborate with UCB and on multiple targets.”

Emerald has been a comeback story the past couple years after its harrowing escape from the bankruptcy proceedings of its former parent, Iceland-based deCODE Genetics. As an independent company last year, Emerald saw its revenue grow 40 percent, and it hired another 20 people to build a staff of about 60, Wetmore says.

The growth is based on Emerald’s skill in structural biology, in which its scientists are charged with determining the complex 3-D structure of biological targets. This can be time-consuming, difficult work that drug companies sometimes hire contractors to do. That frees up the drug company to focus more of its energy on developing the proprietary compounds that bind with the biological target. To use the classic analogy, drugmakers often develop the key that’s supposed to fit just right in the lock.

Emerald can’t say much about the program that it just performed for UCB, but it has already earned a couple of the milestone payments that were outlined in its 2009 collaboration, in addition to research fees, Wetmore says. It will be up to UCB to decide if or when it will publish results from the program in a scientific peer-reviewed publication, she says.

Even though the companies are geographically on other sides of the globe, Wetmore says the UCB and Emerald teams have built a close working relationship. “People are really engaged. We have weekly meetings, where there are really a lot of free-flowing ideas going back and forth. We’ve been able to make fast progress as a result,” she says.

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