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Exelixis Signs Zebrafish Gene Function Deal with AVI BioPharma

NEW YORK, April 27 – Exelixis and AVI BioPharma have agreed to partner in a drug development alliance using Exelixis’ zebrafish functional genomics technologies and AVI’s antisense agents, the companies said Friday.

In a five-year agreement, AVI, of Portland, Oregon, will provide its Neugene morpholino antisense agents to Exelixis subsidiary Artemis Pharmaceuticals, which Exelixis acquired on Monday in a stock-for-stock transaction valued at more than $24 million. Artemis, of Tubingen, Germany, will use the antisense agents to block the expression of specific genes in zebrafish and other model organisms to determine the genes' functions and identify targets for drugs.

Because AVI’s antisense agents inhibit gene function, they could also potentially act as drugs themselves. As part of the deal, AVI will have responsibility for designing antisense agents and conducting preclinical and clinical trials on those antisense agents with potential as therapeutics.

Exelixis will pay AVI for manufacturing the antisense agents used in the animal model studies through the five years of the agreement, and the two companies will jointly own any antisense products that they develop. Exelixis, of South San Francisco, also has the option to co-develop promising antisense agents that the two companies identify. Other financial details were not disclosed.

"Key to this agreement is the quick development time it promises,” Denis Burger, AVI’s CEO said in a statement. “When we define the function of a gene with Neugenes, we don't have to go back and spend three to five years in drug development, because the Neugene antisense agent that was used to define gene function is the drug.”  
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