BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS The French company Neurotech SA, which is developing cell-based therapies for diseases of the eye and the central nervous system, signed what it describes as a “milestone license agreement” with Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

The agreement grants Neurotech the exclusive right to develop and market ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) for local delivery of therapies for ophthalmological indications. The French company, which is based in the national biotechnology science and business park at Evry, also obtained an exclusive license from the University of California under a patent claiming the use of CNTF in degenerative eye disease.

Although the financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, it is known to provide for Amgen to receive warrants in Neurotech stock together with an up-front payment, followed by milestone payments and royalties on future product sales.

Neurotech is interested in CNTF because it has been shown to have protective effects in animal models of retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable degenerative eye disease that is a leading cause of blindness in young adults. There has been no practical way of delivering the CNTF protein into the eye, so it was not possible to conduct clinical studies of this potential treatment.

However, Neurotech recently demonstrated proof of concept in animals that its NT-501 product, based on its encapsulated cell technology (ECT), delivers CNTF into the eye over an extended period of time and protects the retina from degeneration. ECT enables drugs to be delivered through the blood-eye barrier, and Neurotech is developing two products based on this technology.

NT-501 is the more advanced of the two, and clinical trials of the product are due to start later this year in the indication of retinitis pigmentosa. It also is being developed to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma, and will subsequently be tested in these indications as well. Neurotech’s second ECT product is designed to deliver an undisclosed anti-angiogenic factor for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy and the wet form of AMD.

All the therapies Neurotech is developing use genetically modified cell lines derived from the eye or the CNS, either in encapsulated form as a means of delivering proteins to specific sites over long periods of time, or directly as a cell therapy for replacing damaged cells. Having started by developing animal cell-based products, Neurotech is now focusing solely on therapies derived from human cell lines, including one for glioblastoma that completed a Phase I trial last year.