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Millennium Awarded U.S. Patent for Two Novel Caspase Genes.

Involved In Apoptosis

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Nasdaq: MLNM) today announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted to Millennium a patent covering two DNA molecules encoding novel forms of caspase 8. Caspase 8 is a protease that when activated causes apoptosis, or programmed cell death. The caspase molecules covered by Millennium's patent may lead to the discovery of new therapeutics for the treatment of disorders that result when a cell loses its ability to control apoptosis, such as cancer, liver failure, myocardial infarction and neurodegenerative diseases.

The patent, titled "Nucleic Acid Molecules Encoding Caspase-8h and Caspase-8i" and issued as U.S. Patent No. 5,837,837, covers two DNA molecules which encode novel forms of caspase 8, as well as vectors and host cells containing these DNA molecules. Caspase 8 is composed of two death domains and a cysteine protease domain. The polypeptides encoded by the caspase 8 molecules of the patent contain, respectively, one and two death domains and lack a cysteine protease domain. These polypeptides are believed to block apoptosis by preventing the binding of inactive caspase 8 and proteins in the cell that activate caspase 8 function.

Drugs that specifically modulate the activity of polypeptides encoded by the caspase 8 DNA molecules of the patent may regulate apoptosis and have utility in treating diseases caused by either excessive or insufficient levels of apoptosis. Excessive apoptosis results in the inappropriate loss of healthy cells, which may cause diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and Parkinson's disease and contribute to myocardial infarction. Insufficient apoptosis can lead to the uncontrolled cell accumulation observed in cancer and can cause cancer cells to become resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

"The discovery and development of caspase modulators is a dynamic area of drug discovery research," said Robert Tepper, M.D., chief scientific officer, pharmaceutical division of Millennium. "The caspase 8 molecules discovered at Millennium have the potential to be exciting drug targets. To treat cancer, molecules that inhibit these caspase 8 molecules could be used to trigger apoptosis in cancer cells, while molecules that activate them could be used to inhibit apoptosis and treat neurodegenerative diseases, liver failure, and myocardial infarction."

"This patent highlights the diversity of Millennium's research interests and capabilities," said Mark Boshar, associate general counsel and chief patent counsel of Millennium. "Apoptosis, in general, is a very active area of research because it is believed to play a fundamental role in a broad spectrum of diseases. In particular, a number of companies are aggressively seeking patent protection for the limited number of caspase family members. This new patent covering two unique forms of caspase 8 is an indication of both Millennium's presence in the critical area of apoptosis research and the successful application of our integrated technology platform across diverse fields of research."

Millennium and its subsidiaries have received 55 U.S. patent allowances from the United States Patent and Trademark Office to date. Of these 55 allowances, 20 U.S. patents have issued. In total, the Company's patent portfolio is comprised of approximately 500 U.S. and foreign patents and patent applications covering a broad range of inventions, from novel human genes and therapeutic proteins to diagnostic tests and drug screening assays to small molecules.

Millennium, a leading drug discovery and development company, employs large-scale genetics, genomics, high throughput screening and informatics in an integrated science and technology platform. This innovative drug discovery platform is applied across the entire healthcare sector, from gene identification through patient management, to accelerate and transform the discovery and development of proprietary therapeutic and diagnostic products and services. Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Millennium and its affiliates currently employ more than 680 people.

This press release contains forward-looking statements that involve a number of risks and uncertainties. Among the factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated in such forward looking statements include uncertainties relating to gene identification, drug discovery and clinical development processes; changes in relationships with strategic partners and dependence upon strategic partners for the performance of critical activities under collaborative agreements; the impact of competitive products and technological changes; uncertainties relating to patent protection; and uncertainties relating to the Company's ability to obtain the substantial additional funds required for its progress. The factors that could affect the performance of Millennium are more fully described in filings by Millennium with the Securities and Exchange Commission including but not limited to the factors set forth under the heading "Business - Factors That May Affect Results" in the Annual Report on Form 10-K of Millennium for the year ended December 31, 1997 as filed on March 31, 1998.

NOTE: This release is available on Millennium's home page at: http://www.mlnm.com.
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Publication:PR Newswire
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 1998
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