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AZ moves to strengthen diabetes, cancer pipelines

Asian deals come after setbacks for investigational cancer and depression treatments

AstraZeneca has signed two licensing deals with Asian drug developers to add new medicines for diabetes and cancer into its development pipeline.

The announcement comes shortly after the company suffered setbacks for two drug candidates for cancer and depression - olaparib and TC-5214 - in phase III trials.

Analysts have expressed concerns that AstraZeneca's late-stage pipeline is looking a little thin as it faces patent expiries on a range of its top-selling drugs.

The UK-headquartered company entered has entered into an option agreement with Astellas Pharma's subsidiary Prosidion for two compounds in a new class of type 2 diabetes drugs known as G protein-coupled receptor GR119 agonists.

Tokyo-based Prosidion has already advanced the lead compound in the licence deal - called PSN821 - into phase II testing, while AstraZeneca has also take an option for a follow-up (PSN842) which is in preclinical development.

In animal models, PSN821 "substantially" lowered blood glucose and reduced food intake and bodyweight, according to AstraZeneca, which said it "has the potential to be a valued addition to the future treatments for type 2 diabetes".

AstraZeneca has paid Prosidion an undisclosed option fee which will graduate to a full licensing deal if the phase IIa trial is successful.

Welcoming the deal, Astellas chief executive Yoshihiko Hatanaka said: "AstraZeneca has a strong track record in the commercialisation and launch of products in competitive primary care markets."

He also said the transaction will support Astellas' goal of "optimising R&D resource allocation in order to effectively manage R&D costs."

The second deal is with biotech company Hutchison MediPharma (HMP) - majority owned by Chinese healthcare group Chi-Med - and involves $20m in upfront fees and up to $120m in development and sales milestone payments, plus royalties.

AstraZeneca has taken a worldwide co-development and commercialisation licence for volitinib (HMPL-504), a selective inhibitor of the c-Met receptor tyrosine kinase which could have potential in a range of cancer indications. The compound is just about to enter clinical trials.

"This collaboration with HMP represents our commitment to China and brings together two groups with highly complementary capabilities," commented Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca's head of oncology innovative medicines.

22nd December 2011

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