Archemix Looks to Hitch Eli Lilly to Aptamer Express in New Deal

Xconomy Boston — 

Archemix has added to its growing list of pharmaceutical collaborators one of the biggest names in the business, inking a licensing and options deal with Indianapolis-based drug giant Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY). The agreement gives licenses to unspecified Lilly technology to Archemix, and it provides options to Lilly to evaluate Archemix’s signature aptamer therapeutics and to gain exclusive licenses to aptamers for up to two disease targets.

What’s all the fuss about aptamers? Cambridge, MA-based Archemix is designing these short pieces of DNA or RNA to bind to certain proteins related to diseases, offering potential new ways to treat cancer, inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disorders, and other illnesses. In recent years the FDA made its first aptamer drug approval for pegaptanib (Macugen), a treatment for age-related macular degeneration. Archemix, which hasn’t yet garnered approval for any of its treatments, is focused initially on developing the drugs for blood disorders.

Lilly joins fellow pharmas Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) of New York, Germany’s Merck (FRA:MRK), and several others to tap Archemix for certain uses of aptamers. “The interest in aptamers (among) large pharmas continues to get higher and higher,” says Archemix CEO Errol De Souza, “so we anticipate doing very significant deals in the weeks, months, and years ahead.” While De Souza acknowledges that this deal with Lilly is more modest than previous pacts for his company, he says it further solidifies his firm’s intellectual property portfolio and adds another Big Pharma player to its roster of collaborators. He says that Lilly asked his firm to keep the specifics of their deal confidential, and he wouldn’t reveal terms such as how long Lilly has to exercise its licensing option.

Archemix had a setback in February when it withdrew its plans for a $63 million initial public offering. Yet De Souza notes that the 10 partnering and licensing deals the seven-year-old firm has done to date have brought cash payments of about $80 million. Add that revenue to the more than $100 million in venture capital the company has raised, the CEO says, and the firm has enough funding to carry its operations through the middle of 2010.