NicOx has signed up a new partner for the investigational glaucoma drug it reacquired the rights for from Pfizer in a deal that could be worth almost $180 million.

The US-based eye healthcare giant Bausch & Lomb is stepping in to develop and commercialise NCX 116, a nitric oxide-donating prostaglandin analogue. The French firm bought back the rights to PF-03187207, as the compound was previously known, from Pfizer in August after the New York-based major decided the drug was no longer an R&D priority.

Two Phase II studies in patients with primary open angle glaucoma and ocular hypertension had compared the drug with Pfizer’s own Xalatan (latanoprost), but failed to meet their primary endpoint. Nevertheless NiCox’ faith in the compound has not wavered and B&L, which incidentally has an ophthalmic co-marketing deal in place with Pfizer, clearly agrees.

Under the terms of the deal, B&L will make an upfront payment to NicOx of $10 million, followed by development, regulatory and other milestones, which, over time, could total $169.5 million. The Sophia Antipolis-based group will also receive tiered double-digit royalties and has the option to co-promote NCX 116 products in the USA.

Gavin Spencer, vice president of business development at NicOx, noted that “as one of the best-known and most respected healthcare companies in the world, dedicated specifically to eye health, B&L recognises the potential of NCX 116”. He added that his firm’s new partner’s “therapeutic focus offers a great opportunity to develop this molecule”.

Analysts at Piper Jaffray upgraded NiCox to ‘overweight’ from ‘neutral’, writing in a research note that the firm “is now well financed to advance its strategy and pipeline”. The company’s lead compound is the osteoarthritis treatment naproxcinod, which was filed with regulators in the USA and Europe last year and has not yet been partnered.