LONDON — SR Pharma plc, of London, has signed its first commercial deal, granting a license to Corixa Corp., of Seattle, for SR Pharma's patent on the use of Mycobacterium vaccae for treating autoimmune diseases. The deal covers the treatment of psoriasis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and Corixa has taken options to exclusively license related products for the treatment of three additional autoimmune diseases.

Thomas Lang, business development director for SR Pharma, told BioWorld International that the agreement was significant because it is the company's first revenue-generating deal, and "shows we are sitting on a strong intellectual property position with our use patents for M. vaccae in autoimmune diseases."

Financial details were not disclosed, but Lang said the deal was "based on the traditional arrangement of license fee and further payments as the work progresses." Corixa and its collaborators will be responsible for funding development in the licensed indications. SR Pharma and Corixa may pursue additional collaborations in the development of other applications of the technology.

Corixa is currently testing a formulation of de-lipidated, de-glycolipidated M. vaccae, based on SR Pharma's proprietary process and formulation for heat-killed M. vaccae, in a clinical trial for psoriasis taking place in the Philippines. Preliminary data from this trial suggests that the formulation is safe and well tolerated, and a number of patients have shown significant objective clinical responses.

SR Pharma is developing its own version of heat-killed M. vaccae, SRL 172, for the treatment of cancer and allergies and as a vaccine adjuvant. Lang said that SR Pharma had done some preliminary tests of SRL 172 in the treatment of psoriasis, but decided not to pursue this indication. "I think the combination of data from our trial of SRL 172 in psoriasis and Corixa's data from the Philippines is sufficient to make it worth going forward to a controlled clinical trial," Lang said.

In November 1997, SRL 172 failed in a pivotal trial for the treatment of tuberculosis, in South Africa. It is currently in Phase III trials for the treatment of lung cancer. *