By Randall Osborne

Triangle Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s line-up of antivirals bagged the company a marketing deal worth up to $335 million with Abbott Laboratories.

"This really gives them the full plate," said Nick Ellis, president and chief operating officer of Durham, N.C.-based Triangle. "It's sort of one-stop shopping."

Under the terms of the agreement, Abbott, of Abbott Park, Ill., partners with Triangle in the U.S. for six antiviral products: two protease inhibitors and four products in development for HIV and hepatitis B (HBV).

Outside the U.S., Abbott gets exclusive sales and marketing rights to the four Triangle antivirals.

Ellis said the deal includes an up-front component and milestones. Abbott will buy about 6.57 million shares of Triangle common stock at $18 per share, for about $118.2 million. Also, the agreement provides for non-contingent research funding of $31.7 million, and up to $185 million of milestone payments. Future development costs will be shared.

"[Abbott] already has the one protease inhibitor that sold $150 million in the U.S. last year," Ellis said. That product, Norvir (ritonavir) for HIV, was approved in 1996. Abbott has another HIV protease inhibitor, ABT-378, in Phase III trials.

The agreement with Triangle gives Abbott three nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) and one non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI).

Abbott will co-promote Coactinon (emivirine), the NNRTI formerly known as MKC-442, now in Phase III clinical trials. Triangle said it expects to file a new drug application (NDA) for Coactinon by the end of this year, and Abbott is likely to submit a European marketing application in mid-2000.

Coviracil (emtricitabine), an NRTI, also is in Phase III clinical trials for HIV and in Phase I/II trials for HBV. An NDA is expected in 2000, with a European filing in 2001.

In earlier development stages are DAPD, an NRTI in Phase I/II trials for HIV, with Phase I/II trials in HBV expected to begin later this year.

Phase I/II trials with L-FMAU, which is being investigated for treatment of HBV, are expected to begin late this year.

The alliance could mean the two companies will launch at least one new antiviral each year over the next four years.

"I think it's a real good potential," Ellis said.

Although HIV is a strong focus of the company, about 350 million chronic carriers of HBV exist, many in Asia, and "people are really grappling to get their arms around what the size of the opportunity in Asia is," he added.

In any case, "single-drug therapy in hepatitis is going the way of single-drug therapy in HIV," Ellis said. "It's going to continue to be difficult to chase [them] down. You've got to continue to come up with better bullets."

Triangle and Abbott intend to enter a manufacturing agreement before closing the deal, which would let Abbott manufacture certain Triangle products worldwide.

The deal was disclosed after the markets closed Thursday. Triangle's stock (NASDAQ:VIRS) ended the day at $18.125, up $0.125. Abbott's shares (NYSE:ABT) closed at $44, down $1.375.