BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON British Biotech plc made further headway on its strategy of expanding its pipeline through in-licensing as it entered a collaboration with MethylGene Inc. for MG98, a cancer drug in Phase II trials.

The deal gives British Biotech European development and commercialization rights for the antisense compound, in return for an initial fee of US$1.7 million and an equity investment of $2 million. This will be followed by milestone payments of up to $12.8 million based on approvals and commercialization in Europe, plus an undisclosed royalty on sales.

In addition, British Biotech, based in Oxford, has taken an option to license preclinical compounds from Montreal-based MethylGene’s small-molecule enzyme inhibitor program.

Elliot Goldstein, CEO of British Biotech, said the agreement allowed the company to accomplish two important objectives. First, “acquisition of the development and commercialization rights to MG98 in Europe adds a fifth compound, already in Phase II, to our clinical portfolio.” Second, the agreement provides “access to MethylGene’s strong intellectual property position and rational drug discovery capabilities.”

Antisense drugs disrupt the production of proteins by selectively binding to messenger RNA and hence preventing translation of the DNA code for a particular protein. MG98 is a second-generation antisense compound, designed to halt production of DNA methyltransferase, an enzyme implicated in uncontrolled tumor growth.

North American rights to MG98 were granted to MGI Pharma Inc. in August 2000, and the compound is in two Phase II trials in North America. British Biotech will fund additional Phase II studies in cancers in which the expression of DNA methyltransferase is implicated, and expects to share Phase III development costs equally with MGI Pharma, of Minneapolis.

The attraction for MethylGene is that British Biotech has extensive experience of running clinical trials in cancer from its work with marimastat, the British Biotech compound that reached Phase III but eventually failed trials in half a dozen different cancers.