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GTC seeks protein to treat disorders.

Byline: Lisa Eckelbecker

FRAMINGHAM - GTC Biotherapeutics Inc. has licensed rights from Merrimack Pharmaceuticals Inc. to develop a protein for the treatment of autoimmune disorders, an agreement that includes GTC taking control of goats it developed in recent years for Merrimack.

GTC said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had licensed exclusive worldwide rights to develop and sell recombinant human alpha-fetoprotein, including the MM-093 version developed by Cambridge-based Merrimack.

Human alpha-fetoprotein is a blood protein produced in pregnant women. GTC has been working for about eight years with Merrimack to develop genetically altered goats capable of producing the protein in their milk. GTC operates a goat farm in Charlton.

A Merrimack official, responding to a message asking why the company was licensing the MM-093 program, declined by e-mail yesterday to comment. GTC said it has taken control of the goats it developed for Merrimack and will seek a partner to finance continued development of the protein, possibly as a treatment for multiple sclerosis and myasthenia gravis, a chronic muscle weakness.

"The animals still exist in our herd," said Thomas E. Newberry, vice president of corporate communications and government relations. "We took a look at the product. We were intrigued by it."

Under the agreement, GTC will receive Merrimack's initial inventory of bulk drug suitable for human studies, according to GTC's filing with the SEC. In addition, GTC will return to Merrimack all the shares of Merrimack series C convertible stock that GTC holds. If GTC develops the protein and sells products based on it, GTC will make payments to Merrimack.

Merrimack has tested MM-093 in humans in studies targeting a number of autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and the eye ailment uveitis, according to the privately held company's press releases and a government Web site.
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Title Annotation:MONEY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 9, 2009
Words:300
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