Forest Laboratories has signed a deal with France’s Pierre Fabre which gives it North American rights to develop and commercialise the antidepressant F2695.

F2695, a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, is an isomer of milnacipran. Late-stage trials are expected to begin next after a recently-completed 550-patient Phase II study of the drug showed its effectiveness against placebo for major depressive disorder.

Under the terms of the deal, Forest will make an upfront payment of $75 million for the US and Canadian rights to F2695 to Pierre Fabre, which will fund preclinical development and drug substance manufacturing activities worldwide. The French firm will also be eligible for royalties.

Forest and Pierre Fabre have been partners since 2004 and, along with Cypress Bioscience, have been working on milnacipran for the treatment of fibromyalgia. The treatment is being reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration and the agency recently failed to meet the scheduled Prescription Drug User Fee Act action date of October 18.

Nevertheless, Forest said that “we continue to plan for a first quarter 2009 product launch meeting”.