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Abraxis Continues University Licensing Spree With Deal for Scripps Cancer Rx Candidate

Another day, another university licensing deal for Abraxis Bioscience.
The Los Angeles-based company last week announced that it has entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with the Scripps Research Institute for the worldwide development and commercialization of a new class of microtubule-stabilizing agents for the treatment of cancer.
The deal is the latest in a plethora of licensing agreements or strategic alliances that Abraxis has consummated over the last year, mostly with research universities or non-profit research institutes.
In addition, Abraxis remains open to establishing additional relationships with such entities in the near future as it looks to build out its pre-clinical and clinical cancer therapeutic pipeline, according to a company spokesperson.
Terms of the deal with Scripps call for Abraxis to obtain the rights to eleven potential drug candidates called epothilones, microtubule-stabilizing reagents that bind to the tubulin pathway to inhibit the growth and proliferation of cancer cells.
Abraxis said in a statement that it will evaluate the therapeutic potential of Scripps’ epothilones using its proprietary nab technology platform, which uses the human protein albumin to transport and deliver therapeutics to disease sites.
The primary inventor of the epothilones is KC Nicolaou, chair of the department of chemistry at Scripps. According to Jennifer Dyer, director of the office of technology development at Scripps, the licensing deal covers a series of patent applications.
Dyer declined to provide additional details on the exact patent applications involved. A search of the US Patent and Trademark Office database revealed that Nicolaou is the primary inventor on at least six patents and at least four patent applications related to epothilone analogs.
Abraxis has been unusually active in the area of university and non-profit research institute collaborations over the past year. In August, Abraxis announced that it had acquired exclusive worldwide rights to intellectual property, including an immunotherapeutic/anti-cancer compound and cell-based assay systems for discovering immune-modulating drugs, from the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif. (see BTW, 8/6/2007)
In July, the company entered into a $10 million, 10-year collaborative research agreement with the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles in the area of nanobiotechnology research (see BTW, 7/30/2007).
And in June, Abraxis announced that it had exclusively licensed the worldwide development and commercialization rights from the University of Southern California for diagnostic protein biomarkers related to colorectal cancer, marking one of the largest licensing deals in terms of market potential for USC since it established the Stevens Institute for Innovation earlier this year in an attempt to speed technology commercialization (see BTW, 6/25/2007).
Over the past year, Abraxis has also entered into strategic alliances or licensing agreements with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, University of British Columbia, University of Maryland, and the John Wayne Cancer Institute, making the company a veritable goldmine of potential licensing deals for research institutions looking to commercialize potential cancer therapeutics.

An Abraxis spokesperson told BTW that the company is “open to establishing additional licensing and research collaborations,” but declined further comment.

Abraxis recently indicated in a statement that its unusually heavy collaborative activity was part of an ongoing strategy to “work closely with innovative, cutting edge scientists to discover new chemical entities and to maximize the opportunity” to use the nab technology and other of its proprietary technologies to deliver active reagents from the bloodstream across the endothelial barrier to the underlying interstitium and intracellular space.
Last week, an Abraxis spokesperson told BTW that the company is “open to establishing additional licensing and research collaborations,” but declined further comment.
Both Abraxis and Scripps declined to provide specific financial details of the agreement, but for Scripps, the deal is “fairly standard” in terms of size and potential payout, Dyer told BTW.
Scripps, which is one of the most well-funded independent research institutes in the US, has an annual operating budget of approximately $350 million, Dyer said. Approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of that stems from federal research grants – primarily from the National Institutes of Health – while the remainder comes from individual, corporate, and foundation philanthropy; licensing agreements; royalty income; and investment income, she added.
In 2006, Scripps executed 109 licensing agreements for its technologies.
The relationship between Scripps and Abraxis began in 2001 in the form of a sponsored research agreement between Scripps and Abraxis precursor American Bioscience. That research agreement constituted only two to three years of funding, Dyer said, but it took some time for Scripps and Abraxis to come to terms on a licensing agreement for the resulting discoveries.
As to whether the relationship between Abraxis and Scripps will continue in the form of collaborative research, both entities were mum. An Abraxis spokesperson told BTW that the company is “open to the possibility of this happening, but at this time there are no plans for additional collaborations with the institute.”
Dyer said that Scripps has not received any indication that there will be an ongoing research agreement, but it is possible that Nicolaou would enter into at least a consulting agreement with Abraxis in the future.

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