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Inpharmatica Takes First Step into Drug Discovery with Serono Collaboration

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Inpharmatica is making good on its plans to become a drug discovery player. Two weeks after CEO Malcolm Weir told BioInform the company would use its $43 million in second-round private financing to grow its discovery efforts, the company said last week it could see over $20 million in milestone and other payments from a two-year structural genomics collaboration with Swiss biotech company Serono.

Under the terms of the deal, Serono will fund a team of Inpharmatica researchers to develop proprietary mining tools to study a particular target class of proteins for Serono. The companies declined to disclose which target class would be pursued, but Serono spokesman Nick Miles said the company is “focusing on four or five key therapeutic areas.”

Serono will have the rights to select unlimited proteins for clinical development and commercialization as well as to develop antibodies and protein molecules against the targets. Inpharmatica will be entitled to royalties on future product sales and will have the rights to any proteins Serono decides not to pursue.

Serono has also acquired a standard license to Inpharmatica’s Biopendium database of protein sequence, structure, and function information as part of the agreement. Weir said that the proprietary bioinformatics tools Inpharmatica is developing will be the exclusive property of Serono during the partnership, but Inpharmatica will retain IP rights to the tools upon the end of the two-year period.

“This is a very significant deal for us,” said Weir. “Our business model has always had these twin tracks of near-term growth of revenues through Biopendium licensing, but longer-term much higher growth in revenues due to a share in the proceeds of drug discovery. This deal exemplifies the latter arm of the business model and is the first big-ticket deal that we’ve done in that respect with a major company.”

Miles said Serono chose Inpharmatica because “they have a deep expertise in the field of bioinformatics and in determining protein structure and protein folding patterns.”

The collaboration marks Serono’s first external collaboration in genomics, Miles said, but the company is planning on increasing its number of genomics partnerships over the next few years. Serono plans to spend $150 million this year on its internal genomics efforts, but “on top of that we’re looking to spend substantial sums of money on future collaborations with a genomics angle,” Miles said.

Serono has a bioinformatics team of around 10 people, but sees external collaborations in this area as the most direct way to gain the benefits of new technologies. “Our philosophy is, in simple terms, that you don’t need to buy the farm to milk the cow,” said Miles. “The technology is moving so fast that in order to be a leader and win the race here, you need to have the best driver in the car, you need to have the best car, but you don’t need to be the manufacturer of the best bolt, tire, or exhaust pipe.”

Miles declined to offer details on Serono’s next area of collaboration or who its future partners may be.

Inpharmatica also has collaborations with Pfizer, Genentech, and Arrow Therapeutics. Cookson said that Inpharmatica’s deal with Serono would not impact on its other collaborations.

— BT

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