With its lead drug, Cerestat, in late-stage clinical trials andprogressing toward market approval, Cambridge NeuroScience isadding to its pipeline of new products a potential $20 millionpartnership with Allergan Inc. for development of a glaucomaprevention treatment.

"The success of Cerestat is in sight and we have to start planning fornew successes," said Cambridge NeuroScience president and CEOElkan Gamzu. The Allergan collaboration, he added, "is the first of anumber of moves we expect to make over the next year" building onthe company's expertise in protecting nerve cells by regulating ionchannels.

Cerestat, under development with Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, ofIngelheim, Germany, is in Phase III trials for prevention of braindamage. One study is evaluating the drug in stroke patients and theother in head trauma patients. The drug is an N-methyl-D-asparate(NMDA) ion channel blocker that protects cells by preventingcalcium overload, which causes a damaging ionic imbalance and istriggered by loss of blood flow to the brain.

In the glaucoma alliance, Allergan is paying CambridgeNeuroScience, of Cambridge, Mass., to apply its knowledge ofglutamate ion channels, such as NMDA, and sodium channels toprotect optic nerve cells from the same kind of damage suffered bybrain cells during an ischemic stroke.

Both calcium ions, controlled by glutamate ion channels, and sodiumions are positively charged and excessive amounts of either willcause an ionic imbalance.

In their agreement, Allergan, of Irvine, Calif., made a $3 millionequity investment in Cambridge NeuroScience, buying 175,103shares at $17.13 per share, a 46 percent premium to the stock's$11.75 trading price Wednesday. The company's shares(NASDAQ:CNSI) closed Thursday up $0.375 to $12.125. Allergan(NYSE:AGN) ended the day up $0.125 to $31.75.

Allergan also will pay Cambridge NeuroScience $3 million inresearch and development funds over three years. The balance of the$20 million will be contributed in milestone payments and includes a$2 million line of credit to be made available as an advance onmilestone achievements.

Allergan will assume all development costs of a potential drugcandidate and will market the product, paying CambridgeNeuroScience royalties.

In glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness, damage to theretina and optic nerve is caused by an increase in intraocular pressurefrom build up of aqueous humor in the eye. Allergan, which sells avariety of ophthalmic products, markets several glaucoma drugsdesigned to relieve that pressure.

Jeffrey D'Eliscu, vice president of corporate communications forAllergan, said the company's work with Cambridge NeuroSciencewill attempt to attack the root causes of the optic nerve damage.

For example, research has indicated pressure build-up in the eye maysqueeze off blood flow to the optic nerve creating an ischemic eventthat leads to damage of the nerve cells. In addition, reduction inblood flow to the eye, itself, may play a role in intraocular pressure.

Gamzu said the first step will be to determine the best target:glutamate ion channels, sodium channels or both.

Then compounds from Cambridge NeuroScience's library of channelblockers will be evaluated in Allergan's laboratory models forglaucoma. The companies anticipate having a drug candidate selectedfor clinical trials within three years. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.