Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Teva Buys Cogenesys

Teva said this morning it was buying the albumin-fusion technology company Cogenesys for $400 million. Cogenesys spun out of Human Genome Sciences with $55 million in funding in 2006. (Our 2006 profile of the spinout can be found here.)

We remember when the phrase albumin fusion could only have referred to a Spanish egg-white omelet. Oh, Science, how far you've come!

Teva joins a host of pharmaceutical firms bulking up in large molecule capabilities and drug candidates, a phenomenon we've described in detail several times, perhaps most comprehensibly here. Nothing new there, then.

But for generics giant Teva, this deal is as much about deepening its stake in the ill-defined, yet surely valuable, follow-on biologics arena as is it about biologics capabilities per se. The Israeli group already joined the biogenerics (er, we mean biosimilars) bandwagon in 2003, via its $3.3 billion acquisition of Sicor. This isn't quite the same, though. Cogenesys technology isn't aimed at producing copies of marketed biologics, but at improving them.

The technology, which Human Genome Sciences developed after it acquired Principia Pharmaceutical Corp. (a spin-out of Aventis Behring) in 2000 for $135 million, fuses albumin with a therapeutic protein at the genetic level; translation of the fused genetic code results in a protein with the properties of the therapeutic protein and the long-half-life of albumin. (See diagram below.) The technology's main competition is the more-familiar PEGylation, which also creates longer-lasting protein therapies, though Cogenesys has consistently claimed its technology works better than PEGylation.

Albumin fusion proteins' partnership potential has been validated, first by Human Genome Sciences. That company's Albuferon long-acting interferon is being co-developed with Novartis in hepatitis C. Cogenesys has done some deals of its own since spinning out of HGSI--in 2006 the company struck alliances with PDL BioPharma and Vegenics.

Teva has long worked in both generics and, to a far smaller degree, in innovative R&D (remember MS drug Copaxone?) But competition's hotting up on the small molecule side, and there's continuing uncertainty around the US regulatory aspects, and hence commercial potential, of straight biosimilars. So this deal--for improved, IP-protected versions of existing large molecules--illustrates where Teva, along with plenty of others, including innovators, feel the future may lie: somewhere in between copying and innovating, combining the low-risk of the former with the patent-defense (and, one assumes, the regulatory pathway) of the latter.

'Egg whites omelet from Prana' by Flickr user Table For Three, Please used under a Creative Commons license. Albumin fusion diagram from Cogenesys.

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