By Matthew Willett

AEterna Laboratories Inc. entered commercialization and distribution agreements worth more than C$35 million to the company for Neovastat, its lead anticancer therapeutic, covering European marketing and distribution.

The deal with Grupo Ferrer Internacional SA, of Barcelona, Spain, and Medac GmbH, the Hamburg, Germany-based oncological division of Schering AG, of Berlin, calls for double-digit royalties on total net sales, milestone payments to AEterna of more than C$35 million (US$22.9 million) and research-expense sharing for anticipated new indications.

"We just closed and signed the deal [Thursday] morning, and we're very happy because in a partnership there's always a long negotiating process, and you have to feel comfortable and get the right deal in the end for both parties," AEterna CEO Eric Dupont told BioWorld Today. "We believe we negotiated a very good deal for the corporation."

Grupo Ferrer will receive exclusive rights for commercialization and distribution for all Southern European countries, including Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy. Similar rights for Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Austria and Eastern Europe will go to Medac.

Neovastat is an anti-angiogenic compound in Phase III trials for treatment of lung cancer and kidney cancer. A Phase II pivotal trial of the anticancer agent in treatment of multiple myeloma is also under way.

Dupont said the Neovastat program should reach the regulatory filing stage in late 2002 or early 2003. The Quebec City, Quebec, company expects data from the ongoing trials to be available by then.

"We have a drug that targets multiple mechanisms of action involved in complex process of angiogenesis," Dupont said. "It works by shutting down VEGF [vascular endothelial growth factor] and MMBs [matrix metalloproteinases] and we have the drug in three pivotal studies."

The market for the therapeutic could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on pricing and demand, and on the development of other, similar therapeutics.

"The most advanced study is in renal cell cancer and multiple myeloma, and in North America and Europe there are about 75,000 new cases per year. In multiple myeloma in North America and Europe there are 40,000 to 45,000 new patients, and that's a relatively high number of patients and new cases per year," Dupont said. n