BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc. signed its first major corporatecollaboration with the Japanese drug maker, Torii PharmaceuticalCo., for a potential $22 million covering development of theBirmingham, Ala., company's lead drug for autoimmune diseases andT-cell cancers.

The deal gives Torii, of Tokyo, rights to develop and commercializeBioCryst's purine nucleoside phosphorylase (PNP) inhibitors inJapan for rheumatoid arthritis, atopic dermatitis and T-cell cancers,such as adult T-cell leukemia. BioCryst retains rights to the small-molecule compounds elsewhere.

PNP is an enzyme linked to T-cell proliferation, a conditionassociated with a variety of diseases. BioCryst's lead product, BCX-34, is a topical form of the PNP inhibitor in late-stage development inthe U.S. The drug is in a Phase III study for cutaneous T-celllymphoma (CTCL) and another Phase III trial is expected to beginthis fall for psoriasis.

BioCryst also is conducting a Phase I/II study of an oral form ofBCX-34 for CTCL and other studies with the oral version areplanned for multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

Torii paid BioCryst $3 million up front, half of it for a licensing feeand the other half an equity investment. The Japanese companybought 76,600 shares of BioCryst at $19.58, a 40 percent premium tothe stock's (NASDAQ:BCRX) trading price Friday of $14.

Torii's ownership interest in BioCryst is less than 1 percent.

BioCryst closed Monday up $1.50 to $15.50.

The remaining $19 million in the agreement will be paid to BioCrystupon achievement of various development milestones tied to BCX-34's progress in Japan and the U.S.

Torii initially will focus on rheumatoid arthritis, atopic dermatitis andadult T-cell leukemia. BioCryst would receive additional funds ifTorii pursues development of the PNP inhibitor for other diseases.

"We could negotiate for other indications," said John Higgins,BioCryst's vice president of corporate development. The twocompanies, he added, discussed a total of six or seven possibledisease targets.

Higgins said enrollment in BioCryst's 90-patient Phase III CTCLtrial should be complete in the next four to five weeks. Results fromthe study are expected in early 1997.

BioCryst completed a successful Phase II trial of topical BCX-34 forpsoriasis in April 1996. Data from the Phase III psoriasis study isexpected by the second quarter of 1997. n

-- Charles Craig

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