Vernalis has bagged a milestone payment of $1.5 million from Swiss group Novartis, under the groups’ research and development pact for the oncology target Hsp90.

The milestone was triggered after Novartis kicked off Phase I clinical trials of a Vernalis compound targeting Hsp90 in a range of solid tumours and liquid cancers.

Simon Sturge, Vernalis’ chief executive, said that company is “delighted” with the progress of the programme. “Inhibition of Hsp90 is receiving increasing attention in the fight against cancer and our collaboration with Novartis continues to deliver exciting new treatment opportunities,” he added.

The companies sealed their Hsp90 R&D partnership in September 2004. Under the terms of the agreement, Novartis provides Vernalis with research funding and then carries out preclinical and clinical research on any candidates it selects.

Two candidates

So far, Novartis has selected two candidates for further development, the most recent being an oral follow on to an intravenous compound discovered using Vernalis’ fragment based drug discovery platform.

The UK firm’s Hsp90 programme is the result of a collaboration established in March 2002 with Cancer Research Technology Ltd and The Institute of Cancer Research, under which the company is obliged to pay both groups a proportion of its revenues from its agreement with Novartis.