By Lisa Seachrist

Washington Editor

Cephalon Inc. reported that TAP Holdings Inc. has decided to extend its funding of Cephalon's research into tyrosine kinase inhibitors for another year, while SmithKline Beecham plc has chosen to end its stroke research collaboration with the West Chester, Pa., company.

In 1997, the collaboration with TAP, of Deerfield, Ill., netted Cephalon approximately $7 million and the London-based SmithKline deal garnered $2 million to $3 million. TAP is a joint venture of Abbott Laboratories Inc., of Abbott Park, Ill., and Takeda Chemical Industries Ltd., of Osaka, Japan.

"We are very pleased with TAP Holdings' decision to continue to develop tyrosine kinase inhibitors for prostate cancer," said Jason Rubin, vice president of corporate communication at Cephalon. "The split with SmithKline was amicable; they just decided that stroke would no longer be a priority for them."

The TAP collaboration began in 1994 to develop certain tyrosine kinase inhibitors for the treatment of prostate cancer. That collaboration was expanded in 1996 to include additional drug candidates and extend to all cancer.

TAP currently has CEP-2563 in Phase I dose-ranging clinical trials to establish safety of the product for prostate cancer patients. In addition to the $7 million in research and development funding, TAP is covering all clinical expenses of products in this collaboration.

The SmithKline collaboration, which began in 1993, centered on developing inhibitors of an enzyme called calpain. Because calpain appeared to be important in the process of neuronal cell death during ischemic events, the companies worked on developing a drug that could inhibit calpain and prevent the devastating loss of brain cells that often accompanies stroke.

Cephalon regains the rights to all calpain inhibitors developed during the $12 million collaboration.

"Both companies agree that the collaboration made considerable scientific progress," Rubin said. "We hope that in the next six to 12 months we might be in the position to take the next step toward clinical trials with one of these molecules."

Rubin maintained that the company has every intention of continuing to fund the calpain inhibitor program itself. Rubin told BioWorld Today it is likely that, once a drug candidate is ready for testing in the clinic, the company would search for a development partner.

Craig Parker, an analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities Inc., of San Francisco, doubts the company will continue to fund the program.

"I'd be very surprised if they genuinely continue investigating that," Parker said. "Calpain inhibitors are widely seen as a dead end."

Parker noted that several companies were looking into the potential for treating strokes with calpain inhibitors but have abandoned the research.

"With the timing of this release, it certainly looks as if the wheels are falling off the cart," Parker noted, referring to the fact that the company's Lou Gehrig's disease drug, Myotrophin, appears stalled at the FDA and unlikely to gain approval.

Parker did, however, note that tyrosine kinase appears to be a good target for prostate and other cancers.

Cephalon's stock (NASDAQ:CEPH) closed at $9.88, down $0.25. *

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