ANALYTICAL: Jeol spins out NMR business

Japanese instrument maker Jeol is spinning out its nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) business through a joint venture with the Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ), a public–private partnership launched in 2009. The new company will be called Jeol Resonance and make electron spin resonance (ESR) devices as well as NMR devices. The INCJ is funded by ¥82 billion (£590 million) from the Japanese government and ¥10 billion from 19 private corporations. In March, Douglas Meinhart, director of analytical products, said that Jeol would have a 49 per cent stake in the new company, and the INCJ would have a 51 per cent stake. He was speaking at laboratory sciences trade show Pittcon in Atlanta, US. In 2010, Jeol made sales of ¥85 billion.

PHARMACEUTICAL: US approval for AZ thyroid cancer drug

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved orphan drug vandetanib for the treatment of thyroid cancer. The drug candidate is owned by pharma major AstraZeneca. The approval refers to medullary thyroid cancer that cannot be removed by surgery or that has spread to other parts of the body. Vandetanib is a kinase inhibitor and an antagonist of the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor and the epidermal growth factor receptor. The FDA awarded orphan drug designation for the treatment of medullary thyroid cancer in 2005. The designation makes it easier for drug companies to bring to market more quickly drugs for the treatment of rare diseases. In addition, vandetanib is under review in the EU and in Canada. PHARMACEUTICAL: Novartis licenses Elidel to Meda

Swiss pharma major Novartis will license Elidel (pimecrolimus) for the treatment of atopic dermatitis to Meda, a Swedish pharma company. Meda will pay $420 million (£260 million) upfront and start global manufacturing of Elidel within three years. Elidel was approved in the US in 2001 and in the EU in 2002. Global annual sales of Elidel are about $120 million, and according to Meda the product has ‘attractive profitability’ and is protected by patents until 2025. Meda avoids early research, focussing instead on: buying products and companies; collaborations with other companies; and the development of drugs that have already shown clinical value. In 2010, it made sales of SEK 12 million (£1.2 million).

PHARMACEUTICAL: SuperGen buys Astex

US pharma company SuperGen has agreed to buy private UK biotech Astex and change its name to Astex Pharmaceuticals. The new company will specialise in small molecule drugs for the treatment of cancer and viral infections. SuperGen made 2010 sales of $15.3 million.

The key drug for the company is Dacogen (decitabine) for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes, a range of blood related conditions that affect the bone marrow. Dacogen is marketed by Eisai in North America and by Johnson & Johnson in the rest of the world. In 2010, it generated for SuperGen $52.5 million in royalty payments, representing a 27 per cent increase compared with the previous year. SuperGen will pay $25 million in cash and give Astex shareholders shares representing 35 per cent of the new company. In addition, SuperGen will pay $30 million in shares or cash, at the discretion of the new company, over a 30 month period. Astex owns a ‘fragment-based drug discovery platform’ called Pyramid that is based on the use of small bits, or fragments, of larger biological molecules as starting points for development, which makes high throughput screening easier. The platform combines biophysical techniques, such as x-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and isothermal calorimetry, with fragment libraries and a range of computer modelling techniques. Since its formation in 1999, Astex has raised over £80 million in financing.

Andrew Turley

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