Washington Editor

Ardana Bioscience Ltd. licensed worldwide rights to an LHRH antagonist being assessed in prostate cancer from Zentaris GmbH, a wholly owned subsidiary of AEterna Laboratories Inc.

The candidate, Teverelix, was licensed by AEterna, of Quebec City, Quebec, under undisclosed terms, Gilles Gagnon, president and CEO of AEterna, told BioWorld Today.

Also last week, Gagnon said Zentaris, based in Frankfurt, Germany, reported favorable preclinical results surrounding its tubulin inhibitor, ZEN-014, at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Orlando, Fla. ZEN-014 represents a new class of small-molecule tubulin binders with anti-angiogenic properties.

Of the news, Gagnon said, "We are really shaping our portfolio in a strategic direction. We are pushing a new compound and passing another, which is part of our LHRH platform. We are building a strategic platform with a vision for the future."

Teverelix, an LHRH (luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone) antagonist, could be useful in other illnesses such as endometriosis, but for the time being, Gagnon said Ardana is expected to focus its efforts on cancer. As per the agreement, Ardana owns worldwide rights in all indications.

While Gagnon wouldn't discuss financial arrangements of the deal, he described it as "a very significant transaction money-wise." The agreement provides Ardana, a privately held firm located in Edinburgh, Scotland, with intellectual property relating to the candidate and the underlying microcrystalline suspension technology.

Zentaris, meanwhile, receives a payment at signature and fixed annual guaranteed payments until 2006, as well as potential future income on sales of Teverelix. Zentaris also will provide certain development services and supply clinical samples to Ardana. The company said in a news release the deal would "generate double-digit-million euro risk-free income in the short and mid-term."

A Phase I trial evaluating Teverelix as a sustained-release formulation in prostate cancer is nearing completion.

Revenues collected by AEterna via the transaction "will enable us to invest in other promising compounds from our own pipeline."

Among them is ZEN-014, a compound discovered by Zentaris. Preclinical results released at AACR last week showed that nontoxic concentrations of ZEN-014 inhibited endothelial cell sprouting and vessel formation. Also, cancer cells (KB/HeLa) were arrested completely in the G2M phase of mitosis at nanomolar concentrations and subsequently underwent apoptosis.

The company said ZEN-014 showed "an excellent" antitumor activity profile in a broad panel of tumor cell lines, including paclitaxel- and vincristine-resistant cells. Furthermore, Zentaris said ZEN-014 exhibited promising in vivo activity in a renal-cell carcinoma model at a dose of 50 mg/kg after oral application.

AEterna purchased Zentaris in December 2002 for C$81 million in cash. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 2, 2003.)

Outside of Zentaris' oncology prospects, AEterna has a healthy pipeline and is working in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health, of Bethesda, Md., to advance certain candidates.

One is Neovastat, currently the subject of a Phase III trial in non-small-cell lung cancer. Several months ago, Neovastat missed its endpoints in a Phase III trial in renal cancer, prompting the firm to drop the indication. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 25, 2003.)

AEterna and partner Solvay Pharmaceuticals BV, of Brussels, Belgium, are studying Cetrorelix, also an LHRH antagonist, in Phase II trials for endometriosis, uterus myoma and enlarged prostate. Gagnon believes data from at least two trials will be available in the second quarter. Geneva-based Serono SA sells Cetrorelix as Cetrotide to the in vitro fertilization market in the U.S., Europe and certain other countries.

Also with the NCI, AEterna is evaluating perifosine, an orally active AKT inhibitor, in several cancers, including head and neck, prostate and lung.

AEterna's stock (NASDAQ:AELA) Friday closed at $6.55, up 12 cents.