Denmark’s Zealand Pharma and Helsinn Healthcare of Switzerland are linking up to develop the former’s early-stage treatment for chemotherapy-induced diarrhoea.

Under the terms of the agreement, Helsinn will receive a worldwide exclusive licence to ZP1846, a GLP-2 (glucagon-like peptide-2) receptor agonist and will be responsible for all further development, regulatory approvals, manufacturing and marketing of the compound. It will pay Zealand milestones up to 140 million euros, plus royalties.

ZP1846 is described by the firms as one of a series of novel peptides that specifically enhances the growth and function of the lining of the small intestine. It has completed Phase I clinical trials in the USA and pre-clinical studies have demonstrated that ZP1846 inhibits chemotherapy-induced injury in the small intestine.

Sergio Cantoreggi, head of R&D at Helsinn, noted that diarrhoea is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening side-effect of chemotherapy and despite its high incidence and severity, “it is often under-recognised and poorly managed – current available treatments are only palliative”. He added that CID remains a huge unmet medical need and “ZP1846 has a tremendous therapeutic potential by virtue of its unique mechanism of gut growth stimulation and reduction of gut atrophy and weight loss induced by the mucosal toxicity of chemotherapy”.

Mogens Vang Rasmussen, Zealand’s chief financial Officer, noted that the deal is the third major agreement the Glostrup-based company has concluded within the 10 years it has been operating. AVE0010/ZP10, for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, is partnered with Sanofi-Aventis and began Phase III trials in May 2008, while Wyeth has licensed GAP-134/ZP1609, a Phase I drug for the potential chronic prevention of atrial arrhythmias.