LONDON ¿ Chiroscience Group plc has won back the rights to its lead product, Chirocaine, from Zeneca Group plc, following Zeneca¿s proposed merger with Astra AB, of Sodertalje, Sweden.

Under the agreement between the two companies, Zeneca will continue to fund the development and commercialization of Chirocaine until Chiroscience finds a new partner. Zeneca will not sell shares in Chiroscience, acquired when the marketing deal was agreed upon in March 1998. Zeneca, of London, held the license for Chirocaine, a long-lasting local anaesthetic, in all markets, excluding Japan. However, competition authorities in the U.S. and Europe have pressured Zeneca to off-load Chirocaine before the merger, because of Astra¿s strong position in the local anesthetics market.

Chiroscience said details of the ¿mutually acceptable¿ deal will be disclosed once it has received clearance from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The company, based in Cambridge, U.K., may now negotiate with prospective new partners, using commercial information and promotional material created by Zeneca.

The disclosure coincided with the news that Chirocaine has been designated ¿approvable¿ by the FDA. ¿ Nuala Moran