By Mary Welch

Chiroscience Group plc granted worldwide rights to its local anesthetic, Chirocaine (levobupivacaine), to Zeneca Group plc in a deal worth $25 million.

Chiroscience, of Cambridge, U.K., retained rights to manufacture levobupivacaine, market it in Japan and develop it for dental office use.

Zeneca, of London, agreed to purchase 3.5 million ordinary shares at $7.12 per share for a total of $25 million. The investment will give Zeneca a 3 percent equity position in Chiroscience. In addition, Zeneca will make royalty payments based on sales of Chirocaine, which have been estimated to reach as high as $335 million.

Chirocaine is a local anesthetic developed for use in a wide range of surgical procedures as well as for post-surgical pain management and relief of pain during childbirth. The drug is an isomer derivative of bupivacaine, but in clinical tests on approximately 1,000 patients, seems to have fewer negative side effects on the cardiovascular and central nervous systems.

A marketing application for Chirocaine was submitted in December 1997 to the Swedish regulatory authorities, who will act as the rapporteur in the European Union mutual registration process. Plans are still on track to have the drug submitted to the FDA by the end of April.

"This is a significant investment and it clearly is an endorsement by Zeneca, a respected multinational company, of our program — especially since Zeneca already is a player in the anesthetic field with its product, Diprivan," said Brian Gennery, director of development with Chiroscience.

"And it is an endorsement of us that Zeneca doesn't want to just give us a check for our product but wants to be a part of the company. While that's not unusual with multinational companies, it is still a nice way of doing business."

Chiroscience To Handle Registration

Under the licensing agreement, Chiroscience will be responsible for the registration process, both in the U.S. and Europe, but Zeneca will handle all marketing for Chirocaine and will invest in a substantial Phase IIIb/IV clinical and marketing program.

Gennery said the exclusion of Japan and office dentistry was simply a matter of Zeneca's not having much experience in those fields.

"The Japanese market for anesthesia is not as well developed as in the United States and Europe, and the Zeneca group felt it was not a path they wanted to go down," Gennery said. "And we were quite happy at that. We are in talks with a number of Japanese companies who are interested."

A similar situation existed with the dental office market. "That really is a specialty market and Zeneca didn't want to get involved again. That frees us up to explore opportunities with companies who have an expertise there." *