By Randall Osborne

Sugen Inc. signed a deal potentially worth more than $70 million with Taiho Pharmaceutical Ltd. to develop and sell angiogenesis inhibitors to fight cancer.

Under the terms of the agreement, Taiho will help fund preclinical and clinical development of the Sugen drugs in exchange for marketing rights in Japan. Sugen retains rights in the rest of the world, and will get from Taiho up-front payments, milestones, and funding for research and development that could add up to more than $70 million.

Sugen also has rights, through an affiliate, to manufacture and supply products to Taiho for sale in Japan.

Sugen's most advanced angiogenesis inhibitor is SU5416, which is undergoing Phase I and Phase I/II testing in the U.S. and Europe.

The drug prevents new blood vessels needed for tumor growth by blocking the Flk-1/KDR receptor found in the endothelial cells of the vessels. The Flk-1/KDR receptor may be involved in the angiogenesis process in more than 80 percent of all solid tumors.

"Compared to conventional therapies available today, Sugen is looking at cancer treatment in a new way, looking at cytostatic drugs to manage disease," said Susan Kinkead, spokeswoman for Redwood City, Calif.-based Sugen.

Others are thinking along the same lines. EntreMed Inc., of Rockville, Md., made headlines this spring with its anti-angiogenesis research, causing the company's stock to soar. The share price more than quadrupled in a day of trading. (See BioWorld Today, May 5, 1998, p. 1.)

The market reaction was "crazy," Kinkead said, but that hardly diminishes Sugen's faith in its cytostatic method, the goal of which is to contain the tumor.

Deal Comes After Two Years Of Talks

Japan's approach to fighting cancer is conservative and favors more traditional cytotoxic technology such as chemotherapy, Kinkead said, so making the deal with Taiho was "a very big coup." Discussions with Taiho have been ongoing for "a couple of years," she added.

Taiho, which posted $636 million in sales last year, markets UFT, an oral fluoropyrimidine compound that is the No. 1 anticancer agent in Japan.

Sugen's lead product, SU101, is not an angiogenesis inhibitor. It blocks the signaling of the platelet-derived growth factor receptor, implicated in irregular cell growth in brain, prostate, lung and ovarian tumors. A Phase III trial of SU101 is under way, and an interim analysis is expected in the second half of next year. (See BioWorld Today, July 6, 1998, p. 1.)

Multiple Phase II studies are testing SU101 for the treatment of prostate cancer and other cancers.

Sugen's stock (NASDAQ:SUGN) closed Thursday at $16.062, up $0.312. *