Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc. has obtained exclusive distribution,marketing and selling rights in Canada for five years to ChironCorp.'s Proleukin. Proleukin was approved by Canada's HealthProtection Board on Sept. 15 for high dose administration tometastatic kidney cancer patients.Conventional wisdom puts the Canadian market for drugs at aboutone-tenth the size of the U.S. market. Last year, Chiron's sales ofProleukin in the U.S. totaled $19 million, which suggests that Ligandcould expect to sell about $2 million worth of Proleukin in Canada.However, the price of Proleukin in Canada _ which has agovernment-run health care system _ will likely differ from the U.S.price, making sales estimates difficult."Because the Canadian market is not a huge market, we didn't wantto build up an infrastructure ourselves in Canada," explained Chironspokesman Larry Kurtz. "This will be Ligand's first direct sellingopportunity and they want to build a market in oncology. We thoughtthey would be hungrier and more aggressive than other potentialpartners we looked at."Kurtz would not reveal the financial details of the marketingagreement but told BioWorld that Ligand paid "less than $1 million"for Canadian rights to Proleukin. A source close to Ligand said thatthe San Diego-based company would assemble a Canadian sales forceof an undisclosed size, but "certainly under 10" people.According to the terms of the agreement announced on Wednesday,Ligand will receive a direct percentage of profit on all Canadian salesof Proleukin, as well as residuals on a percentage of sales in the years2000 and 2001. Chiron will manufacture Proleukin.Ligand has stated that its commercialization strategy is toaggressively seek and acquire products for the North Americanoncology market (the U.S., Canada and Mexico), what the companyrefers to as "the NAFTA region.""We are pleased to secure from Chiron the exclusive rights toProleukin in Canada from a field that included several companieswith established Canadian marketing operations," said Ligand's vicepresident of new product development and licensing, James Mirto, ina statement. "Proleukin is an excellent proprietary, high value-addedproduct around which to begin our commercialization strategy."High dose administration of Proleukin to treat metastatic kidneycancer has been associated with severe side effects, includingpulmonary edema and death. However, kidney cancer is an evenmore deadly disease, with an average survival rate of 12 months foruntreated patients.According to Kurtz, a study recently published in the Journal ofOncology demonstrated that lower doses of Proleukin were just aseffective as high doses in treating kidney cancer, but produced fewerside effects. In addition, he said that oncologists have learned how tomanage the side effects of Proleukin more effectively since the drugwas first approved by the FDA in 1992. n

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

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