Getting a leading Japanese drugmaker to link up for the development of a preclinical compound is quite a feat and one that the UK’s CeNeS Pharmaceuticals has pulled off with some aplomb.

The Cambridge-based firm has just awarded Ono Pharmaceutical exclusive rights to develop and commercialise its general anaesthetic and short-acting sedative, CNS-7056, in Japan and the Osaka-headquartered group will pay out upfront and development milestone payments, as well as royalties on sales of the compound if it comes to market.

Chief executive Neil Clark declined to give any more financial details but told PharmaTimes World News that “we have struck a very good deal,” noting that it represents Ono’s earliest-ever licensing agreement. Initial contact between the two companies was made around two years ago at a conference and the Japanese firm is clearly impressed, having made a “very careful and prudent” analysis of the compound.

£6.1 million placing

The Ono deal follows an announcement by CeNeS that it proposes to raise approximately £6.1 million before expenses by placing just under 5.8 million new shares. Mr Clark noted that some of the proceeds will be used to help the firm deliver on its obligations regarding this latest deal – CeNeS plans to start a Phase I study with CNS-7056 in the USA in the first half of 2008, while Ono is expected to begin a Phase I trial in Japan as early as the second half of next year.

However the bulk of the funding is likely to go on preparing for Phase III trials of CeNeS' lead product, M6G (morphine-6-glucuronide) in the USA. Earlier this year, the firm unveiled positive data from a European Phase III trial for M6G for the treatment of post-operative pain, and Mr Clark told PharmaTimes World News that its efforts in seeking a licensing partner are going very well. He noted that CeNeS only received the final clinical report last month but an auction with prospective partners is planned and a deal could be made public either at the end of this year or the beginning of the next.

Given that M6G is a late-stage compound, CeNeS looks to be in a strong position to sign a lucrative deal. When asked if his firm would be looking for some sort of co-promotion arrangement, Mr Clark said that this was a possibility but noted that while some smaller companies may insert such conditions in a deal, “putting something on a press release” is not the same as actually setting up a sales force and spending accordingly. It is an option, however, and he noted that the company has experience of marketing products through a small yet focused hospital sales force. CeNeS used to sell the analgesics Diconal, Cyclimorph and Valoid, which were acquired from Glaxo Wellcome at the end of 2000, and Xefo, licensed from Nycomed in 2001. By Kevin Grogan