BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Botanicals specialist Phytopharm plc said it was to be a beneficiary of the recent proposed takeover of Pharmacia Corp. by Pfizer Inc., announcing Pfizer was taking the appetite suppressant P57 back in-house and giving Phytopharm carte blanche to develop and license synthetic versions of the compound.

CEO Richard Dixey told BioWorld International, "We will still get the US$32 million in milestones, plus royalties from Pfizer, and Pfizer will now progress P57 in-house. We get the rights to semi-synthetics, giving us another product."

Phytopharm, based in Godmanchester, Cambridge-shire, has sufficient funding for another two years. Dixey said he expected to have a chemical derivative of P57, an extract from a South African plant, in the clinic by the end of next year. The key patents will be submitted within six weeks, at which point he will start looking for partners. Several companies have previously expressed an interest in P57 (which is exclusively licensed to Pfizer) and he said he is confident of finding a licensee.

"We did a $32 million deal [with Pfizer] on a plant extract with no idea of the mode of action and all the other complications," he said. "Now we have a known mode of action and clinical proof of principle in man."

The research collaboration between Phytopharm and Pfizer was entered in 1998 and extended in 2000. In December 2001, when proof of principle was established in Phase I trials of P57, Pfizer said it wanted to extend the agreement a further three years. However, the deal was not concluded by the time Pfizer announced its all-share deal to take over Pharmacia.

"We had been negotiating for six months; we couldn't wait another six months while the FTC rules on the merger," Dixey said. "This is a good deal for us. After spending $15 million of Pfizer's money on research, we've got back all the rights."

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