By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

NPS Pharmaceuticals Inc. has granted Abbott Laboratories exclusive development and marketing rights to NPS-1776, a small-molecule drug candidate with neuroscience applications.

Salt Lake City-based NPS and Abbott, of Abbott Park, Ill., declined to disclose the financial terms of the agreement. The market favored the deal, however, with NPS¿ stock (NASDAQ:NPSP) closing Wednesday at $20.50, up $4.50, or 28 percent.

Under the terms of the agreement, Abbott will take over all research and development of NPS-1776 in exchange for milestone and research payments and royalties on any sales of NPS-1776 or related compounds developed as part of the agreement.

¿This was an association we really wanted,¿ said David Clark, vice president of operations for NPS. ¿Abbott is a leader developing these types of drugs.¿

NPS-1776 is a compound that came out of efforts by NPS to investigate its drug-like molecules for potential therapeutic effect. In preclinical testing the molecule showed a variety of activity that closely matched that of Depakote (valproic acid), an anticonvulsant drug produced by Abbott that also is used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions.

¿When we began to test this drug in preclinical models, it performed really well,¿ Clark said. ¿We got it to the point of specifically looking at spasticity and convulsions.¿

The company moved the molecule into two Phase I tests in epilepsy and discovered no toxicities and a therapeutic index better than that of valproic acid. Further clinical development is now the responsibility of Abbott.

NPS has several other products in clinical development, including ALX1-11, recombinant human parathyroid hormone, in Phase III as a treatment for osteoporosis. Toronto-based Allelix Biopharmaceuticals Inc. developed ALX1-11. NPS and Allelix merged in September 1999. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 29, 1999, p. 1.)

¿One of the reasons we thought Allelix was so important was that it gave us the opportunity to take a late-stage product forward ourselves,¿ Clark said. ¿It will give us the opportunity to make a pure marketing deal and allow us to reap more of the profits from the product. Our decision to partner our other products is simply a matter of resource allocation.¿

In addition to the injectable version of parathyroid hormone, the company has a deal with SmithKline Beecham plc, of London, to develop small-molecule compounds for the treatment of osteoporosis.

Outside the osteoporosis indication, NPS is developing calcimimetics to treat hyperparathyroidism with Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd., of Tokyo. Calcimimetics are small molecules that stimulate calcium receptors on parathyroid cells to regulate the secretion of the parathyroid hormone. The lead calcimimetic is currently in Phase II trials.

Finally, NPS is developing ALX 0600, an analogue of a growth factor found in the digestive system. The company is developing the drug as a means to enhance nutrient uptake in people suffering from short bowel syndrome. That product currently is unpartnered and is being tested in a small Phase II study.