Celltech Inc.'s research into development of a smallmolecule compound aimed at cutting off formation ofcancer cell blood vessels may be back on track with acollaboration worth nearly $16 million with London-based Zeneca.

Peter Allen, Celltech finance director, said formulationproblems for the lead compound derived from researchinto gelatinase inhibitors forced delays in starting clinicaltrials in 1994. He said Celltech postponed the programuntil it could find a corporate partner.

Zeneca has agreed to pay up to $15.8 million to Celltech,of Slough, England, for attainment of milestones tied toclinical development, which the pharmaceutical companywill conduct. In return, Zeneca would get worldwiderights to market the drug and Celltech would getroyalties.

Allen said the first step for Zeneca will be to determine ifCelltech's lead compound is suitable for furtherdevelopment. If not, additional research will have to bedone to evaluate other gelatinase inhibiting compoundsidentified by Celltech.

Gelatinase is an enzyme believed to be involved in theformation of cancer cell blood vessels which enabletumors to grow and to metastasize.

Allen said the collaboration is Celltech's first in itsresearch on targeting gelatinase inhibitors for fightingcancer. He said the drug, if developed, could treat a broadrange of cancers that spread throughout the body.

Celltech's business strategy for its drug discoveryresearch, Allen said, has been to seek corporatepartnerships to advance its programs.

In July 1994, Celltech signed its largest pact with Merck& Co., of Whitehouse Station, N.J., for development ofasthma drugs. The deal was worth up to $48.8 million tothe British biotechnology company.

Celltech also has two other major collaborations. Analliance with Germany-based Bayer AG targetsdevelopment of an anti-tumor necrosis factor antibody forimmune-related disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.Another pact with American Cyanamid Co., of Wayne,N.J., focuses on use of antibodies carrying cytotoxicdrugs to treat cancer. American Cyanamid is a subsidiaryof American Home Products, of Madison, N.J.

Celltech also has partnership with Schering-PloughCorp., of Madison, N.J., for development of antibodiesto block activity of cytokines involved in inflammatorydiseases and immune system disorders. n

-- Charles Craig

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