Japanese company Kaken Pharmaceutical and US Elitra Pharmaceuticals said yesterday that they are to collaborate on a multi-year research project for the discovery and development of novel anti-fungal drugs. Elitra will conduct high throughput screening against an unspecified number of proprietary drug targets, and will have responsibility for certain pre-clinical development efforts. Kaken will also contribute to the pre-clinical development responsibilities and both companies with coordinate worldwide clinical development efforts. "We are very pleased to collaborate with Elitra. Elitra's drug discovery technologies and Kaken's development expertise are quite complementary. I believe that this collaboration will lead to the discovery of the next generation of anti-fungal drugs," said Hidefumi Kurosawa, executive managing director of research & development at Kaken. Elitra retains exclusive marketing rights in North America and certain other territories, and Kaken retains exclusive marketing rights in Japan, the Far East and Europe. Kaken will make an upfront technology access payment and fund dedicated research efforts at Elitra, including making milestone payments based on pre-clinical and clinical progress. Specific financial terms were not disclosed. The two companies claim that the anti-fungal market is an important therapeutic area with estimated sales in excess of $4.6 billion in 2001. Despite the availability of several antifungal drugs, systemic fungal infections remain fatal in more than 30 per cent of patients. Attempts to develop new anti-fungal drugs have been frustrated by the lack of knowledge about and capability to exploit new fungal drug targets. Through the use of its proprietary functional genomics capabilities, Elitra claims to have identified and prioritised the majority of essential gene drug targets in Candida albicans and Aspergillus fumigatus, the two most important human fungal pathogens. Elitra identifies new drug leads through the use of highly sensitised cell-based assays combined with proprietary high throughput screening technologies.