BioWorld International Correspondent

Finnish biotechnology company BioTie Therapies Oyj stands to gain up to €5 million over the next year from a research and option agreement it signed with Aventis SA for its "bioheparin" development program.

The news pushed the Turku-based company's stock (HEX:BTH) up 28.6 percent Tuesday to close at €1.08, while the Helsinki Stock Exchange all-share index was off by about 2.1 percent.

The agreement, which includes an up-front payment of €1 million, plus €4 million in milestone payments, grants Aventis, of Strasbourg, France, exclusive rights to negotiate a license agreement and to assess and conduct clinical research on BioTie's bioheparin formulation. It already has evaluated a number of preclinical compounds, BioTie CEO Jari Saarinen told BioWorld International, and the companies have agreed to a research program for generating further versions. "During the next 12 months we will deliver new samples to meet the defined product criteria," he said.

BioTie's bioheparin is derived from a capsule polysaccharide secreted by Escherichia coli K5. "It happens to have the exact same structure as a human heparin precursor," Timo Veromaa, chief scientific officer and vice president of R&D at BioTie, told BioWorld International. The precursor is produced via fermentation and then converted to biologically active heparin through a series of enzymatic and chemical modification steps. A reaction catalyzed by the enzyme C5-epimerase is the key step, conferring the anticoagulant activity on the polysaccharide, Veromaa said.

Existing versions of heparin, including Aventis' Lovenox, are obtained from porcine sources and are not available orally, Veromaa said. The companies aim to combine BioTie's non-animal heparin with delivery technology from Aventis to develop an orally available product.

BioTie previously had partnered with Inalco SpA, of Milan, Italy, on the project, but that agreement was terminated last July, when the firms agreed to go their separate ways. Each retained freedom to operate in the area, but BioTie had been unwilling to commit further resources to it until it found a partner. It will tap into an extensive research network to progress the program further, Saarinen said. "There are several tens of people working on this project."

The company exited the year with €10.4 million in cash and equivalents, but has additional research funding from the Finnish government agency Tekes. It now has sufficient cash until spring 2005, Saarinen said.