LONDON ¿ Vanguard Medica Group plc has expanded its collaboration with the Wolfson Institute in London on the discovery of novel sodium channel blockers as treatments for stroke and central nervous system (CNS) disorders.

The agreement, initiated by Vanguard¿s subsidiary, Cerebrus Pharmaceuticals Ltd., in 1998, already has made progress in identifying a development candidate in stroke, and several patents have been filed on novel blockers. The work now will be expanded to neuropathic pain. Vanguard says this represents a substantial unmet medical need in conditions such as diabetic neuropathy and multiple sclerosis, and that there is clear understanding of the role of sodium channels in such pain.

Vanguard will be responsible for commercialization of any products, and will be seeking pharmaceutical partners. The agreement also allows for additional indications to be developed by Vanguard.

Vanguard acquired Cerebrus, a CNS discovery company, in December 1999. Last month, it was announced that Cerebrus projects in cerebral malaria and sabcomeline had been stopped, and other discovery programs scaled back. Cutbacks were needed because of an unexpected delay in the approval of Vanguard¿s lead compound, frovatriptan, a migraine treatment, in the U.S. The delay means there will be no further milestone payments from the marketing partner, Dublin, Ireland-based Elan, and no royalties until 2001 at the earliest.

Vanguard also said Phase IIa trials for VML 600, for treating hepatitis C, have begun in Europe, and a U.S. Phase IIa study is expected to start shortly.