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1 Small Pharma Proving That Partnerships Pay

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If drug companies could take personality tests, Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IONS  ) would probably be classified as an extrovert. The company hasn't had any trouble making friends lately. Isis announced two significant partnership deals just this week.

Three in a row
On Monday, Isis released information about a new collaboration agreement with Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB  ) . This is the third partnership between the two companies using Isis' antisense drug platform. Antisense drugs focus on binding to one gene in an RNA molecule to limit production of proteins that cause specific diseases. 

The first two deals, announced earlier in 2012, targeted treatment of spinal muscular atrophy and myotonic dystrophy type 1. The latest collaboration relates to development of antisense drugs targeting three undisclosed neurological or neuromuscular disorders. 

Under the terms of the most recent partnership agreement, Isis will develop drugs through the end of phase 2 trials. Biogen will have the option to license the drugs up until that point and carry out the remainder of the development and commercialization efforts.

New generation
One day after the news release about the Biogen deal, Isis announced another partnership with AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN  ) . The alliance allows AstraZeneca to benefit from Isis' development of antisense drugs for five cancer targets, including the ISIS-STAT3Rx drug currently in a phase 2 trial for treatment of advanced lymphomas.  

ISIS-STAT3Rx is the first cancer drug developed using Isis' new "Generation 2.5 chemistry." The company believes that this chemical process increases drugs' potency and will enable oral administration.

While this is the first official partnership between Isis and AstraZeneca, there is something of a connection between the two companies. Regulus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RGLS  ) , which was founded by Isis and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY  ) , formed an alliance with AstraZeneca in August of this year. 

It pays to partner
Both of the agreements recently announced by Isis bring in nice amounts of cash. Isis will receive $30 million from Biogen Idec initially. AstraZeneca is paying $25 million now and $6 million in the second quarter of 2013 if the research program is still moving forward. 

Those dollar amounts are significant for Isis, which has generated revenue of less than $115 million over the last 12 months. The deals also hold the promise of making much more money for the company. Isis remains eligible to receive future milestone payments from both Biogen and AstraZeneca that could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The company will also receive royalties if its products ultimately reach the market.

Licensing its products to bigger organizations has been the business model for Isis thus far. Sanofi's (NYSE: SNY  ) Genzyme licensed Kynamro, a drug developed by Isis that targets familial hypercholesterolemia, and submitted a New Drug Application to the FDA earlier this year. Isis also has partnerships in place with GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) in the development of drugs targeting rare genetic diseases. 

While Isis probably isn't the best stock pick right now with uncertainty about approval for Kynamro, the company continues to do a pretty good job of lining up solid partnerships that keep cash coming in the door. There are plenty of other small pharmaceutical firms that don't do nearly as well on that front. Having plenty of friends is a good thing.

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