LONDON - Vanguard Medica plc has signed Menarini Group Ltd., the privately held Italian drug distributor, as European marketing partner for its migraine treatment, frovatriptan.

Vanguard CEO Robert Mansfield told BioWorld International he hoped to get revenues from the drug, which is to be marketed in the U.S. by Elan Corp. plc, before the end of next year. "We have filed for European approval in France, and so it is in the lap of the French gods, but we expect it to be about a year before frovatriptan is launched."

Shares in Vanguard, of Guildford, Surrey, rose by 7.5 pence to #2.42 when the deal was announced last week. At the beginning of 1999 the share price was down around #1.50.

Frovatriptan was licensed in from SmithKline Beecham, of London, which declined to take the product back for marketing after Phase III. SB is entitled to a share of the royalties, and this is expected to leave Vanguard with a royalty rate of around 18 percent. In addition, Vanguard will be responsible for manufacturing.

Mansfield noted that Menarini, which is based in Florence, has distribution deals with 19 of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies. "Getting a deal with Menarini is very important," he said. "It underlines the importance of the drug in the marketplace that a company the size of Menarini has taken it on. They have traditionally done a fantastic job with a huge range of products and have very strong GP [general practitioner] sales forces around Europe."

In 1998 Menarini had sales of more than US$1 billion. It has a sales force of nearly 3,500.

Vanguard also announced financial results for the six months ended June 30, showing losses down to #4.24 million from #5.99 million for the same period of 1998. Turnover rose to #4.98 million from #61,000, reflecting a second milestone payment from Elan in relation to frovatriptan. The company had #42.8 million cash, compared to #49.2 million a year earlier.