PhamAthene signs patent deal for nerve gas treatment

Published 15 March 2007

Maryland company firms up its relationship with GTC, a noted seller of goat-produced enzymes

This is not the first time we have reported about Annapolis, Maryland-based PharmAthene, a company specializing in WMD treatments. In earlier days we mentioned the company’s efforts to obtain fast track designation for its Valortim anthrax treatment, including a $1 million DoD grant; took note of its merger with New York-based SIGA Technologies; and devoted a lengthy column to the company’s business history (see below).

There is more. The company announced this week that its had entered into an agreement with Framingham, Massachusetts-based GTC Biotherapeutics under which the former company will receive an expanded license to critical GTC patents supporting PhamAthene’s Protexia nerve gas treatment. (The patent concerns the recombinant form of human butyrylcholinesterase required to manufacture the medicine. It comes from GTC’s flock of transgenic goats.) The expanded license agreement follows a recently announced agreement under which GTC provides clinical supply and manufacturing services for Protexia. Financial terms were not disclosed.


Background Briefing

Observers have noted that DHS Project BioShield could use a healthy dose of wisdom in getting the stumbling program back on its feet. PharmAthene, a privately held, Maryland-based company named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, is one of those biodefense companies that is testing the bounds of the program as it works through the development and commercialization of products for sale into the government’s Strategic National Stockpile.

PharmAthene was founded in 2001 and is headed by president and CEO David Wright, whose resume includes serving as executive VP of MedImmune and president and COO of GenVec. The company’s chief science officer, Solomon Langermann, also served at MedImmune and has a background in preclinical product development of agents countering infections, inflammatory disease, asthma, and oncology, as well as bacterial vaccines. Since 2001 the company has attracted $70 million in funding from MPM Capital, Healthcare Ventures, Bear Stearns Health Innoventures, MDS Capital, and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, and has assembled a deep bench of management with experience in pharmaceutical development and marketing.

PharmAthene is currently working on commercialization of two products. The company owns the patent on Protexia, a recombinant form of human butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) for potential treatment or pre-treatment against exposure to chemical nerve agents like soman, sarin, tabun, or VX, which was acquired from Canadian firm Nexia Biotechnologies. The second product in PharmAthene’s stable is Valtorim, a Bacillus anthracis antibody being developed for pre- and post-exposure anthrax infection, for which the company shares the patent with developer Medarex.

With the U.S. government as the leading, and sometimes only, market for biodefense agents, companies in the sector face daunting market prospects until the BioShield program can convince development companies that it will make the effort worth their while. As Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals discovered in September, when the government promised to buy up just 20,000 to 200,000 doses of its type of radiation sickness medicine, at the moment this is not a sure bet. There are several companies in the market already, though, including the above-mentioned Medarex and Hollis-Eden, VaxGen, Acambis, AstraZeneca, and Aethlon Medical. While some products may have civilian applications or potential for international sales, the domestic market is largely shaped by federal allocations, which amount to $15.5 billion for HHS/DHS and DoD combined.