Cell Therapeutics has snapped up US license for radioimmunotherapy agent Zevalin (ibritumomab tiuxetan) from Biogen Idec, saying it sees “substantial revenue growth” for this “underutilised” drug. 2006 Zevalin sales for Biogen Idec in the USA were just $16.4 million; it is partnered elsewhere with Bayer Schering.

Zevalin was approved in 2002 to treat a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and CTI now plans to expand its potential market by investigating its potential as a first-line therapy in both the aggressive and indolent NHL settings, saying it has a favourable tolerability profile and results in high rates of complete responses with just one dose. “We believe the potential cost savings and practice efficiencies compared to standard combination chemotherapy will become increasingly attractive to oncology group practices in the ever-evolving reimbursement environment.”

The US biotechnology firm is also developing a cancer treatment called pixantrone, which is in Phase III trials in similar patient populations and could prove to be an excellent addition to Zevalin. CTI has agreed to pay Biogen Idec $10 million in upfront fees, and an additional $20 million in potential milestones, as well as royalties on sales in return for the exclusive US marketing, sales and development rights to the drug.

Investors traded heavily on the news, a four times the normal rate, but shares in the company closed down marginally at $3.47 compared to $3.59 the previous day.