Syntex Corp. has pulled out of its collaboration with TheraTech Inc.for the development of a ketorolac transdermal patch to treat post-operative pain. Syntex said aspects of the agreement relating to othertherapeutic products would remain in place and that it also retains anequity position in TheraTech.Syntex is discontinuing the project based on its assessment of the risk-benefit profile seen to date in the product and its potential commercialviability, according to a statement released by TheraTech. LindaThomas, a spokeswoman for Syntex, declined to elaborate on thestatement.Michael Walsh, a biotechnology analyst with Robertson, Stephens andCo., of San Francisco, said Syntex's pullout was bad news forTheraTech and could be bad news for all companies developingtransdermal delivery systems.Walsh said the ketorolac patch, designed as a delivery system forSyntex's drug Toradol, was one of TheraTech's more interestingproducts. He said the idea of a transdermal delivery system thatdelivers pain medication steadily, without the highs and lows ofintramuscular and oral formulations that wear off, is a good idea _ butdifficult to achieve because of the skin's function as a barrier.Walsh said that this move bodes badly for all transdermal companiesbecause it points to the difficulties of delivering medications via theskin.Walsh said three types of drugs account for 90 percent of alltransdermal applications. They are nicotine (used for smokingcessation), estradiol (used for post-menopausal symptoms), andnitroglycerin (used for angina). "The whole transdermal business is onewhere there are few barriers to entry, intense competition, and few newproducts coming along. The list of drugs that are amenable totransdermal delivery is not expanding as people had hoped," Walshsaid.Steven Mayer, vice president and chief financial officer of Salt LakeCity-based TheraTech, said the loss of the ketorolac patch wasdisappointing. "But we have a broad pipeline of 21 products indevelopment and from a near-term perspective there will be very littleimpact on the company's revenues. In the long-term there is anopportunity loss, but we have other products that will fill in."Mayer pointed out that TheraTech has eight products in clinicaldevelopment, including treatments based on testosterone, estradiol,progestin, and nitroglycerin. He noted that TheraTech had met eachmilestone in the agreement with Syntex. Two milestone payments havebeen made and a third is still to come. TheraTech has collaborationswith SmithKline Beecham plc of Philadelphia. Pfizer Inc. of NewYork, and Solvay Pharmaceuticals of Hanover, Germany.Under the 1991 agreement with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Syntex, the twocompanies are also exploring other opportunities for development. Thispart of the agreement has not changed.TheraTech (NASDAQ:THRT) closed at $12.50 Wednesday, down $1.50. n

-- Philippa Maister

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