By Karen Young

Prescient NeuroPharma Inc. entered into a letter of intent to license its anticancer compound, anhydrovinblastine (AVLB), to Access Oncology Inc. in a deal that could be worth more than $25 million.

The letter of intent calls for Toronto-based Prescient to receive up-front payments of $1.25 million, milestone payments of $17.5 million and royalties on net sales of AVLB. Access, of New York, will be responsible for all development and marketing costs for AVLB.

Milestone payments will be initiated by the beginning of a Phase III trial, its completion and marketing approval by a competent regulatory authority. The companies expect to sign the final agreement before Dec. 31, subject to completion of due diligence and final board approval by each company.

¿We have a partner here who is keen on developing this molecule rapidly and has the ability and expertise to do so,¿ said Anthony Giovinazzo, president and CEO of Prescient, noting that this will free up managerial and financial resources, allowing Prescient to devote its energies to its primary focus of the central nervous system.

The exclusive license for AVLB does not include the Far East and Latin America.

¿We have some parties that we are speaking to that have expressed very strong interest in those markets, and we¿re hoping to bring those conversations to a conclusion in the first quarter of 2002,¿ Giovinazzo said.

Prescient was formed as a result of a merger, formalized in February, of IGT Pharma Inc., of Vancouver, British Columbia, and NTB Neurotrophic Bioscience Inc., of Toronto. Prescient inherited AVLB from the merger. AVLB is a chemotherapeutic that is a third-generation vinca alkaloid (a type of cancer drug originally derived from the common periwinkle, Catharantus roseus).

The company currently has about $2.8 million in cash, including the up-front payment from Access, which should take it through the next eight months to a year, Giovinazzo said.

The money from the licensing agreement would allow Prescient to focus on its two primary platforms on neuroprotection.

First, Prescient has a neurotrophic platform to identify novel human proteins that rescue and nurture brain cells on a very specific basis. That platform is based on a bioassay that uses the cells that die in disease, and a library of immortalized brain cells called astrocytes from four different parts of the brain, all from rat models.

The second technology platform is a program based on a library of rationally designed chemical entities, called metabotropic glutamate receptors, which have characteristics related to oral bioavailability crossing the blood-brain barrier and antagonizing different receptors and groups of receptors.

¿In this family of mGluRs, this program is characterized by several molecules having had both in vitro and animal model testing, which has resulted in one molecule demonstrating the potential to become a lead candidate in anxiety and ischemia from cardiac bypass surgery,¿ Giovinazzo said. ¿We hope to validate this particular family of molecules, and the specific molecule, PRE 703, in the next three to six months.¿

Prescient trades on the Canadian Venture Exchange (CDNX:PRE). There was no trading on its stock Wednesday and it closed at C60 cents. Access Oncology is privately held.