The Swiss pharmaceutical major stands to pay up to $375 million for the rights to AD 237, a bronchodilator for COPD developed by UK companies Arakis and Vectura, including $30m in upfront fees.
The drug consists of an antimuscarinic agent discovered by Arakis with PowderHale, an inhalation technology developed by Vectura. It is in Phase II testing and could reach the fast-growing COPD market in 2010.
COPD, which encompasses a range of conditions including chronic bronchitis and is usually caused by smoking, is the fourth most common cause of death worldwide. Pharmaceutical companies are queuing up to launch COPD treatments, with the market tipped to expand to $10bn from a current level of $4bn by 2010.
Vectura CEO Dr Chris Blackwell said he expected AD 237 to expand the currently underserved COPD market, led at the moment by Boehringer Ingelheim's recently-launched antimuscarinic drug Spiriva (tiotropium) which saw sales rise 130% last year to reach €532m.
For Vectura, the agreement is an endorsement of its PowderHale platform, which is designed to facilitate high lung penetration of inhaled dry powders with low dose variability.
This is achieved, according to the company, by the incorporation of an additional pharmacologically inactive excipient, known as a Force Control Agent (FCA) with the active drug component or the carrier-based formulation. Examples of patent-protected FCAs include magnesium stearate and L-leucine.
Typical dry powder inhaled formulations have a limited penetration to the lungs. However, the use of the excipient carrier in the PowderHale technology provides the capability to deliver a consistent fine particle dose of drug, close to the nominal delivered dose.
The company also has two other DPI platforms, namely GyroHaler, a low-cost DPI designed for the generic asthma markets which recently cleared the first stage of development and Aspirair, a high-performance system designed for systemic delivery of drugs which was recently partnered with fellow UK firm SkyePharma.