Athena Neurosciences Inc. announced Monday it is droppingdevelopment of an epilepsy compound and acquiringmarketing and distribution rights of a Parkinson's treatmentfor $36 million from Eli Lilly and Co.

Athena plans to return to A.H. Robins Co. Inc., a subsidiary ofAmerican Home Products Corp., the worldwide license rights toAN051 (dezinamide), which Athena spent about $6 million overthe past two years developing as a new epilepsy treatment.Suspending development will save some $25 million to $30million, said John Groom, president and chief executive officerof the South San Francisco, Calif., company (NASDAQ:ATHN).

When work began on the compound two years ago, it appearedthat only one other new epilepsy treatment, Carter-WallaceInc.'s Felbamate, would gain approval. Two others were onclinical hold based on findings in animal studies, Groom said.But all three drugs recently received approvalrecommendations by an FDA advisory committee. Two moreepilepsy compounds also may gain regulatory approval. Withthe three agents currently marketed, Groom said, Athena didnot want to be in the position of adding a ninth epilepsytreatment, although the drug profile was promising.

"It's one of the down sides of the current politicaladministration," Groom told BioWorld. "You don't really know adrug is 'me-too' until you've spent $30 million on clinical trials.For a smaller company, it's hard to take the risk."

To complement its focus on Parkinson's disease, in whichAthena is selling two generic drugs directly to patients throughan air courier prescription service, the company is acquiringfrom Lilly exclusive U.S. marketing and distribution rights toPermax (pergolide mesylate), a Parkinson's treatment firstlaunched by Lilly in 1989.

Under the agreement, Lilly will continue to manufacturePermax and supply it exclusively to Athena for marketing anddistribution in the U.S. for an initial 10-year period. Lilly willcontinue to expand Permax marketing outside the U.S. Athenaplans to use its specialty sales force to promote the use ofPermax to neurologists as an adjunct to levodopa, whichinitially controls symptoms of Parkinson's, including tremor,muscle rigidity and loss of motor control. Permax has beenshown to help reduce symptoms when combined with othertherapies, and allows physicians to lower doses of levodopa,minimizing side effects of long-term levodopa therapy, whichappears to eventually burn out the brain's dopaminetransmitting function.

Permax is a D1 and D2 dopamine receptor agonist that mimicsthe effect of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that isresponsible for movement, posture, balance and walking.

The epilepsy program would probably have been droppedwhether or not the Parkinson's opportunity arose, Groom said,although he believes the current focus represents "the best useof our funds going forward."

Athena's stock (NASDAQ:ATHN) closed unchanged Monday at$7.25 a share.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

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

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