SYDNEY, Australia ¿ Amrad Corp. and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research have jointly sold the rights to the protein encoded from a gene involved in heart disease to Baxter Healthcare Corp., of Deerfield, Ill., for up to US$22 million (A$36 million).

The sale, which includes license fees and milestone payments, is for the protein vascular endothelial growth factor B (VEGF-B), one of a class of angiogenic compounds. There will be additional royalty payments, should a product involving the protein reach the market.

In late February, Amrad and the institute jointly sold the rights to the gene that codes for the protein, the VEGF-B gene, to RPR Gencell ¿ a part of the Paris-based pharmaceutical giant Rhtne-Poulenc SA ¿ in a completely separate deal potentially worth up to US$50 million.

Amrad¿s director of research and development, John Flack, said there was no overlap in the sale of the rights, as Baxter and RPC would be taking completely different approaches in their efforts to achieve clinical cures for heart disease.

Baxter would be using the protein itself and would face all the usual problems in delivering sufficient, non-degraded material to the affected site in the body. RPR, in contrast, proposed to inject the gene itself into the genome of the cells in the affected site and make those cells produce the protein, although such a treatment faces all the current problems of genetic therapy.

The gene and the protein it produces are believed to encourage the growth of blood vessels, and so could be useful in the treatment of atherosclerosis, the leading cause of death in developed countries.

Flack said Amrad had already added considerable value to the project since the gene and protein were discovered independently by scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, one of the research institutes that founded Amrad, and at the Stockholm branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

But the company also believed that, rather than try to develop any treatments and take them to clinical trials, it was best to sell the project.