By Charles Craig

Inhale Therapeutic Systems Inc. could receive up to $15 million in a collaboration with Centeon LLC to develop a pulmonary form of alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor for easier patient administration in treatment of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder that affects about 100,000 people in the U.S.

The Centeon deal is one of eight collaborations Palo Alto, Calif.-based Inhale has negotiated to adapt injected or infused peptides, proteins and other therapeutic compounds for delivery in a dry powder pulmonary system.

Joyce Strand, Inhale's director of communications, said the alliances combined could be worth from $150 million to $200 million in funding to Inhale prior to market launch of the products.

Centeon, of King of Prussia, Pa., agreed to a signing fee, research and development funds and milestone payments totaling as much as $15 million. In return, Inhale gave Centeon commercialization rights to the pulmonary form of alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor worldwide, except in Japan.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a genetic disorder in which the liver does not produce enough alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor, a protein that helps regulate enzymes associated with the activity of white blood cells. If the enzymes are unregulated natural tissues can be damaged. In infants the protein deficiency can cause potentially fatal neonatal cirrhosis and in adults the lungs are affected, resulting in emphysema.

Current replacement therapy involves administering plasma-derived alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor to increase levels of the protein in the blood. Once-a-week infusions, lasting 45 minutes, are required. Bayer AG, of Leverkusen, Germany, sells the plasma protein under the name Prolastin for treatment of emphysema.

Inhale's dry powder formulation of the proteinase inhibitor is designed to be more convenient since the drug would be delivered through the lungs. In addition, lower amounts of the protein would be required.

Centeon, which develops plasma proteins for therapeutic uses, is a joint venture between Hoechst AG, of Frankfurt, Germany, and Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Inc., of Collegeville, Pa. Rorer is a subsidiary of Paris-based Rhone-Poulenc Group.

Inhale's most advanced product is a dry powder pulmonary form of insulin, which is in Phase IIb clinical trials in collaboration with Pfizer Inc., of New York.

In March 1996, Inhale signed a potential $80 million agreement with Baxter International Inc., of Deerfield, Ill., to develop pulmonary formulations of four undisclosed compounds. The collaboration represented the first application of Inhale's technology to drugs other than peptides and proteins.

Inhale announced the deal Monday and it's stock (NASDAQ:INHL) ended the day at $16.875, up $0.875. The company's shares closed Tuesday at $16.437, down $0.438. *