Making their Metamark
February 2012
by Lloyd Dunlap  |  Email the author


CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Metamark Genetics Inc., a privately held oncology company focused on the development of function-based prognostic assays for early-stage cancers, has entered into a research collaboration and license agreement with Janssen Biotech Inc.  
The agreement is based on Metamark's discovery platform for the identification and characterization of specific proprietary cancer targets demonstrated to play a causal role in promoting tumor progression and spread, which the company has trademarked as Prognosis Determinants. Metamark President and CEO Mark R. Straley was most recently the worldwide president of Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) Diagnostics division and was instrumental in putting the deal together with Janssen, a J&J company.  
Upon selection of the targets, Janssen Biotech will receive a limited exclusive license under Metamark's intellectual property and know-how and will thereafter be responsible for the discovery, development and commercialization of therapeutic inhibitors targeting the specific Prognosis Determinants. Metamark will receive an initial upfront payment from Janssen and may be eligible to receive up to $365 million in milestone payments across multiple targets, based upon the achievement of development, regulatory and commercialization goals. In addition, Metamark will be entitled to royalties on worldwide net sales of therapeutics and any associated companion diagnostics upon commercialization.
"This collaboration and license agreement reflect the value of Metamark's innovative approach to identifying genes and proteins that drive aggressive behavior of tumors—both in the development of prognostic assays as well as in supporting the discovery and development of novel targeted therapeutics," says Dr. Eric Devroe, vice president of business and strategy development at Metamark.   Straley adds, "our ultimate mission at Metamark Genetics is to improve cancer patient outcomes by empowering personalized treatment decisions. This collaboration advances our mission by enabling us to apply our unique understanding of tumor biology to direct the discovery and development of tumor-specific drugs and compounds."  
The collaborative effort appears to be timely: according to Metamark Chief Scientific Officer Peter Blume-Jensen, Big Pharma faces a "patent cliff" in 2012 and is eager for innovation that can help refill its pipelines. Apparently, Metamark's discovery platform for development of prognostic tests offers real promise of assisting in this effort by identifying the genes that play a causal role in promoting tumor progression and spread.  
"Prognosis Determinants are truly the 'drivers' of the aggressive phenotype of cancer, and hence attractive as potential drug target candidates," Blume-Jensen says. "They are the proteins encoded by genes expressed in a metastatic but not a non-metastatic tumor mouse model for a particular tumor type. These differentially expressed genes have been further 'triaged' into human tumors to ensure their relevance for metastatic lesions of the same type of human cancer, and ultimately validated in functional assays in vitro and in cancer mouse models. Through this thorough discovery approach, close to 600 non-redundant drug target candidates have been identified and functionally validated. Interestingly, for pharmas and biotechs in search of new drug targets, they are relevant across major tumor types that are among the most common and most lethal."  
Metamark's technology is based on a "quantitative multiplex immunofluorescence (QMIF) platform," Blume-Jensen says, "integrated with advanced object recognition. To my knowledge, we have the most advanced QMIF platform with integrated object recognition. The engineered scope used is from CRI Vectra with proprietary object recognition programs built on the Definiens platform. My analogy is that we've combined the luxury of a Rolls Royce and the power of a Lamborghini into one car—and how we drive it is the secret," he says.
The Metamark business model is to be based initially on a reference laboratory at its Cambridge location, where the company is building a CLIA-certified laboratory it expects to be operational in a few months. Referring physicians and pathologists will submit patient biopsy samples, and within a few days, get an accurate prognostic test result back. Ultimately, Blume-Jensen says, similar operations will be added elsewhere. He expects the first test, which will be for prostate cancer, to be launch-ready in 2012, with other tests to follow later in the year.

Janssen licenses Phylogica peptide technology  
PERTH, Australia—In other recent Janssen news, the company has announced a collaboration and option agreement with Phylogica Ltd., an Australian peptide drug discovery company, to discover new classes of drugs derived from Phylogica's Phylomerâ peptide platform.
In the initial stage of the collaboration, Phylogica will identify cell-penetrating Phylomerâ peptides. Under the terms of the agreement, Janssen could develop Phylomerâ-based drug candidates and has the option to expand the scope of the collaboration to include additional cell-specific Phylomerâ for the development of a further 10 drug candidates.  
Under the terms of this multi-product agreement, Phylogica will receive an initial technology access fee as well as research funding over the first 18 months of the collaboration. Pending ongoing discussions with Janssen regarding commercial terms, Phylogica could receive further research funding, license fees, milestone payments and royalties on worldwide sales.

Code: E021214

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