Biogen partners with Portola in $553M autoimmune drug pact

Soon after taking the helm at Biogen Idec, George Scangos vowed to make the big biotech the "partner of choice" for other promising developers laboring in the same disease fields. This morning Biogen set out to put its money where its CEO's mouth is, offering Portola $45 million in upfront and equity cash along with $508 million in milestones in an in-licensing deal covering a portfolio of the South San Francisco-based biotech's early-stage autoimmune programs.

Biogen's ($BIIB) interest is focused on Portola's oral Syk inhibitors, with a particular interest in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The lead molecule in the package is PRT062607, which is in Phase I after exciting investigators with some preclinical proof of concept insights indicating its potential as a once-daily pill. Portola grabs a $36 million upfront check, $9 million for an equity stake from its new partner and $508.5 million for a slate of development and regulatory milestones. Portola holds on to co-promotion rights in the U.S. and Biogen will cover 75% of the R&D costs.

"Inhibition of Syk has the potential to provide effective, well-tolerated therapies for patients with these and other autoimmune diseases," said Biogen R&D chief Doug Williams. "We are encouraged by the preclinical and clinical data to date and see an opportunity to develop a best-in-class, highly selective oral treatment for these devastating diseases. This program plays to our strengths and experience in immunology, particularly B-cell biology, reflects our focus on cutting-edge science, and strengthens our early-stage pipeline."

Portola, a 2009 Fierce 15 company, lost its $470 million pact with Merck ($MRK) last spring after the pharma giant opted to pull out of their deal to develop a new anti-clotting drug, betrixaban. Portola said at the time that it would go it alone.

- here's the press release

Special Report: Portola Pharmaceuticals - 2009 Fierce 15