By Randall Osborne

Having reported discouraging Phase III interim results with its lead drug, cut its staff and put some of its assets up for sale, Cambridge NeuroScience Inc. lost its collaborator on the product, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH.

"I don't think this is a particularly big event," said Harry Wilcox, president and CEO of Cambridge. "It's certainly not positive news, but it allows us to go out and start talking to other people."

The deal with Boehringer, of Ingelheim, Germany, was begun in 1995 to develop Cerestat (aptiganel) and was valued at up to $43 million, plus the costs of clinical development. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 6, 1995, p. 1.)

Cambridge got about $25 million and Boehringer paid another $40 million in clinical costs, Wilcox said.

Cerestat is an N-methyl-D-asparate (NMDA) ion channel blocker that protects cells by preventing calcium overload, which causes a damaging ionic imbalance and is triggered by loss of blood flow to the brain.

Cambridge reported disappointing interim results from Phase III trials last year. Early this year, the company said it was cutting staff by half and selling some of its technology assets. (See BioWorld Today, Sept. 17, 1997, p. 1, and March 11, 1998, p. 1.)

A subset of the patient population in the Phase III studies — 270 out of about 600 — showed benefit with Cerestat, Wilcox said.

"We think [the drug] is still a pretty good asset," he added, and Cambridge is shopping for another partner.

Focus Shifts To Allergan and GGF2 Programs

Meanwhile, the company will focus on two other programs: one with Allergan Inc., of Irvine, Calif., to develop a glaucoma prevention, and one related to the glial growth factor 2 (GGF2), which Cambridge is studying as a treatment for degenerative diseases of the central nervous system, including multiple sclerosis and peripheral neuropathies.

Allergan is paying Cambridge to apply its knowledge of glutamate ion channels, such as NMDA, and sodium channels to protect optic nerve cells from the same kind of damage suffered by brain cells during an ischemic stroke. The deal, begun in 1996, was valued at up to $20 million. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 22, 1996, p. 1.)

Calcium ions, controlled by glutamate ion channels, and sodium ions are positively charged and excessive amounts of either will cause an ionic imbalance.

"We're giving [Allergan] compounds and they're doing the screening," Wilcox told BioWorld Today. "We haven't made a big deal about it until they selected a compound."

Allergan is "months away" from doing that, he added.

In the GGF2 program, a large preclinical toxicology study must be completed. "We're purifying some material so we can start that trial," Wilcox said.

"We have almost two years' worth of cash, so there's no immediate urgency," he added. The company had $16 million cash in May.

"The burn rate is coming down," Wilcox said. "We've targeted getting it under $500,000 a month, and we're almost there."

Staff has been reduced to about 22 people, from about 70 a year ago. Cambridge has sublet office space, and is still talking with prospective buyers of some technology assets.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company's stock (NASDAQ:CNSI) closed Monday at $0.593, up $0.031. *