Schering-Plough Corp. has reiterated its commitment to theresearch collaboration it established with Cephalon Inc. ontherapeutics for Alzheimer's disease by making a scheduledyearly payment of $4 million, Cephalon announced today.

The companies agreed in May 1990 to collaborate for fiveyears on programs to develop new drugs to treat Alzheimer'sand other neurodegenerative disorders. Schering-Plough(NYSE:SGP) was to provide $20 million to Cephalon of WestChester, Pa., over that period. The most recent payment, whichbrings the total cash investment to $18 million, was "notnecessarily milestone-driven, but optional on the part ofSchering-Plough," explained Bruce Peacock, Cephalon's(NASDAQ:CEPH) chief financial officer.

If Schering-Plough had decided not to exercise that option,however, "they would have lost the rights to what has beendeveloped" under the agreement since its inception, as well ascertain existing technologies, Peacock said.

The agreement between Schering-Plough and Cephalonencompasses two research programs on Alzheimer's. One ofthem is focused on developing small organic molecules toenhance the endogenous production of naturally occurringgrowth factors, especially nerve growth factor (NGF), in thebrain. It's already been shown that NGF can keep damagedneurons alive, but it's too large to pass the blood brain barrierif administered exogenously.

Thus the push to design small molecules (neurotrophic factor-enhancing molecules, or NEMs) to cross that barrier where theycould stimulate the brain to make its own NGF. This approachseems to hold some promise, at least in preclinical studies inrats, Peacock said.

"(Our) NEMs have shown the ability to enhance the expressionof NGF in the brain," Peacock told BioWorld. The next step --and something the partners intend to accomplish this year -- isto "try to understand whether that expression level ismeaningful as well as to find a lead compound to move intoclinicals," he said.

The other collaborative program involves developing small-molecule compounds to prevent the formation of the amyloidplaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Because the amyloid protein in these plaques is improperlyprocessed from its precursor, the collaborators' approach is to"first identify the proteases involved in this aberrantprocessing and then develop inhibitors of these proteases,"Peacock explained.

Cephalon's stock was up 25 cents a share on Tuesday, closing at$12.75.

-- Jennifer Van Brunt Senior Editor

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

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