QLT to shed drug delivery platform

By Anna Lewcock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Drug delivery Macular degeneration Prostate cancer

Biopharma firm QLT has decided to shed a chunk of its Atrigel drug
delivery products and platform in a bid to improve profitability at
the company.

The plans were announced last week at the company's annual general meeting as part of the firm's 2007 "Path to Value Creation". The Atrigel drug delivery system is currently used in the company's lead products such as Eligard (leuprolide acetate) and Visudyne (verteporfin), but the firm plans to divest its systemic Atrigel products and platform. Although the company will hang on to the rights to the applications of the drug delivery system in its core therapeutic areas of ophthalmology and dermatology, other applications will be hived off. The current Atrigel-formulated products available for licence and classed as 'non-core assets' to be divested include growth hormone replacing peptide (GHRP-1) (for malnutrition in end-stage renal disease patients undergoing hemodialysis, currently in Phase I/II), octreotide (for acromegaly and Carcinoid Syndrome, on clinical hold and Phase II respectively) and risperidone (schizophrenia, pre-clinical). The Atrigel technology itself is an extended release system consisting of biodegradable polymers dissolved in biocompatible carriers. Active ingredients can be blended into the system at the time of manufacturing or added later at the time of use by a physician. The system can deliver small molecules, peptides or proteins of a time period ranging from days to months, and was recently used to formulate a six-month dosage of prostate cancer drug Eligard. Once injected, the drug forms a subcutaneous gel-like deposit and the active ingredient is secreted at the desired rate. QLT was unable to comment prior to going to press, but the move could be seen as the latest step in the firm's cost-reduction plans as it fights to compensate for disappointing sales in its lead product, Visudyne, used in the treatment of certain forms of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Sales of Visudyne took a hit when alternative treatments such as Genentech's Lucentis (ranibizumab) hit the market. In October 2006 the company was forced to drop its forecast annual sales range for the drug, and actual figures showed this to be a wise move, coming in towards the top end of the revised estimate at $353.8m - still 27 per cent down on the 2005 figure. Figures for the first quarter of this year don't really show much improvement - with worldwide sales of the drug hitting just $61.2m, a 42.7 per cent decrease on last year's figure. US sales alone show an even grimmer picture, down more than 72 per cent. The company puts this decline in sales down to continued pressure in the US and new competition emerging in the EU market. Back in February QLT also completed the sale of its generic dermatology and manufacturing business, QLT USA, to private pharmaceutical firm Tolmar, providing the company with a much needed $21m and allowing it to focus on developing its treatments for eye diseases. Aside from the divestiture of the Atrigel products and platform, QLT has a few other sources by which it hopes to improve its current fortunes. These include Visudyne as a combination therapy (the drug is already the subject of several studies in combination with both Avastin (bevacizumab) and steroids), support of market growth for Eligard, evaluation of strategic options for acne therapy Aczone (dapsone) and building the company's ocular pipeline.

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