MedImmune Inc. said yesterday that it has acquired worldwide rights to a technology that could help it expand its line of cancer drugs.
The Gaithersburg-based company said it has licensed the rights to develop drugs that target EphA2, a protein believed to cause tumors when present in excessive amounts. The rights, licensed from Purdue Research Foundation, could lead to nontoxic drugs aimed both at treating aggressive tumors - including breast, colon, lung and skin cancers - and at preventing their spread.
Terms were not disclosed.
Analysts greeted the news positively but cautioned that the acquisition amounted to getting the use of an idea that's a long way from fruition.
"This is very long term," said Eric Ende of Banc of America Securities. "Anything that's this early has a long way to go and has a significant risk attached to it."
The acquisition is one of a number of moves MedImmune recently has made to beef up its offerings in oncology.
The company, which acquired its first two cancer drugs when it bought U.S. Bioscience in 1999, subsequently licensed the rights to one of them - its Ethyol treatment to reduce certain chemotherapy and radiation side effects - to Alza Corp. Last year, it sold off the other - the Hexalen treatment for ovarian cancer - to Minnesota-based MGI Pharma.
But earlier this month, MedImmune reacquired all U.S. rights to Ethyol. It also has expanded its own cancer-drug sales force to 60 people and is moving two cancer products through human testing.
One, Vitaxin, is an antibody that blocks the growth of tumor-feeding blood vessels.
The other is a vaccine against cervical cancer that is being co-developed with SB Biologicals, a division of GlaxoSmith- Kline.
"We are continuing to build our oncology business and believe EphA2 fits nicely with our strengths in antibody development and manufacturing, as well as having the longer term potential to leverage our recently expanded oncology sales organization," MedImmune Chief Executive Officer David Mott said in a statement.
Peter Kiener, MedImmune's vice president of research, called EphA2 a "promising oncology program" and noted that data recently published in the journal Cancer Research indicate that antibodies that interact with EphA2 could be used to both regulate the growth of tumor cells and prevent metastasis, while sparing normal cells.
The deal calls for MedImmune to provide undisclosed upfront payments to Purdue Research Foundation, as well as payments when certain development milestones are hit and royalties on the sales of any therapeutics developed from the technology.