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AstraZeneca strikes $100m deal for chronic asthma candidate

Licenses Rigel Pharmaceuticals' inhaled JAK inhibitor R256

AstraZeneca (AZ) has licensed a pre-clinical candidate for chronic asthma from clinical-stage drug development company Rigel Pharmaceuticals in a deal that could be worth up to $100m.

In return, AZ will have exclusive global rights to develop and commercialise the Californian firm's inhaled JAK inhibitor R256.

Shown to inhibit IL-13 and IL-4 signalling, R256 is being investigated as a treatment for moderate to severe chronic asthma and in preclinical studies to reduce airway inflammation and improved lung function.

Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of Innovative Medicines at AstraZeneca, said: "Despite the number of medicines available to asthma patients today, there remains a need for more targeted therapies for moderate to severe chronic asthma.”

The pharma company will take responsibility for moving the candidate in first-in-human clinical studies as well as designing and conducting its subsequent clinical development.

AZ's two biggest-selling respiratory products are its asthma drugs Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol) and Pulmicort (budesonide), but sales of both have recently faced some difficulties. Consequently, first quarter Symbicort revenues fell 3 per cent to $723m and Pulmicort was down 8 per cent to $227m

Announcing its deal with Rigel, which follows an antibody alliance with Amgen signed in April, 2012, AZ says its respiratory and inflammation pipelines is now one of the strongest in the pharmaceutical industry.

Rigel's president of discovery and research Donald Payan said: “With AstraZeneca as our development partner, severely asthmatic people may one day have inhalable R256 as an additional, useful treatment option.”

Under the terms of its agreement with AZ, Rigel will receive an upfront payment of $1m with an additional $8.25m in early milestone payments anticipated by the end of 2013.

When these are added to other developmental, regulatory and launch milestone payments, the R256 collaboration could be worth up to $100m to Rigel and the company will also be eligible for tiered royalty payments on product sales.

The deal, which follows Rigel's 2010 collaboration with AZ in rheumatoid arthritis, will be a welcome vote of big pharma confidence in the firm's respiratory research. This suffered a blow last year when Pfizer dropped a different inhaled asthma drug it had licensed from Rigel following its decision to exit respiratory research.

20th June 2012

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