BioChem Pharma Inc. announced Wednesday that it has signedan agreement with AB Astra of Sweden to develop BioChem'spain control compounds.

BioChem of Laval, Quebec, would not disclose the precise termsof this agreement, but Jean-Yves Duthel, vice president ofcommunications, said that Astra will fund all the research.Astra will also provide an up-front payment and milestonepayments totaling U.S.$4 million to $5.6 million (C$5million to$7 million), Duthel said. BioChem Pharma will supply materialfor development and for commercialization, and it will receivea royalty on any product sales.

The compounds covered by the agreement are syntheticnarcotics known as opioid peptides, which work on the samereceptors as opium-derived drugs. The peptides, however,control pain by working on the peripheral rather than thecentral nervous system. Because opioid peptides also cannotenter the brain, they should be effective pain killers withoutproducing any deleterious side effects, such as physicaldependency and depression, said Paul Schiller, director of thelaboratory of chemical biology and peptide research atMontreal's Clinical Research Institute.

Schiller led the research team that discovered BioChem's leadpeptide candidate, BCH-150. He told BioWorld that BCH-150 is asynthetic tetrapeptide, obtained by chemical modification ofthe naturally occurring peptide dermorphin, which is extractedfrom the skins of South American frogs.

BCH-150 has "a very high specificity for the mu opiatereceptor," Schiller explained. "It's a very polar compound, andabsolutely doesn't get into the brain when administeredperipherally."

BioChem Pharma has $24 million in cash, 83.9 million sharesand "no debt," Duthel said.

BioChem's stock (NASDAQ:BCHXF) dropped 13 cents onWednesday to $12.63. -- Jennifer Van Brunt

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