Pfizer has sold its insulin manufacturing facility in Germany to MannKind Corp in a deal that looks like a particularly good one for the latter firm.

Along with the facility, based at Industriepark Hoechst in Frankfurt, MannKind gets the “relevant real property rights”, production equipment, a quantity of bulk insulin and a license to manufacture the latter for use in pulmonary delivery. The purchase price is $33 million, but only $3 million of that involves cash upfront.

The other $30 million involves potentially issuing that amount to Pfizer in stock. MannKind chief executive Alfred Mann said that the plant in Frankfurt is “a state-of-the-art insulin production facility that would make an excellent counterpart” to the firm’s formulation, fill and finish facility in Danbury, Connecticut, which will be used for Afresa, an ultra-rapid-acting, inhaled insulin product.

MannKind recently presented promising late-stage data which suggests that Afresa is as safe and effective as injection therapy. Phase III trials have been completed and a New Drug Application submission for Afresa is imminent.

There is a possibility that MannKind may not get approval from “certain third parties that hold some property rights to the facility”. They are Infraserv, the industrial park operator and Sanofi-Aventis which holds the right of first refusal on the sale of the real property rights.

However, even if MannKind does not acquire the facility itself, Mr Mann said that the company will still obtain “certain removable equipment” and “an immediate supply of insulin and the ability to supply our insulin needs for the future”. The deal brings Afresa “one step closer to commercial readiness," he added, and should help MannKind in its search for a partner.

The agreement, if it takes up the stock option, also represents a return of sorts to the inhaled insulin market for Pfizer. In October 2007, the New York-based drugs giant withdrew Exubera last year from the US market due to weak demand and later issued a warning concerning possible lung cancer risks linked to the inhaled insulin drug.

MannKind is the last player standing in this particular market. Apart from Pfizer, Eli Lilly (AIR) and Novo Nordisk (AERx) halted development of their late-stage inhaled insulin programmes.