Antisoma will be celebrating after closing a major deal with Novartis - potentially worth up to $890 million - under which the Swiss drug giant gains the global rights to its oncology drug AS1404.

Under the terms of the deal, Antisoma will receive an immediate payment of $75 million, plus $25 million when the product enters a Phase III clinical trial in lung cancer, which is expected to kick off in 2008. Furthermore, the group stands to gain development, regulatory and sales-based milestones as well as royalties if the product makes it to market. The company also has the right to co-commercialise the drug in the USA.

Novartis will fund and conduct all future development of AS1404, and will also pay for the outsanding costs of Phase II trials currently being undertaken by Antisoma. Its plans for AS1404 include a Phase III study in squamous non-small cell lung cancer, as mentioned above, as well as late-stage trials in prostate and ovarian cancers if Phase II evaluation is successful in these indications.

Just last month, the group unveiled a set of positive Phase II results for AS1404 in NSCLC, which showed a response rate of 50%. In February, the firm's chairman Barry Price noted that "interest in licensing AS1404 has been considerable and we are confident that we will reach an agreement with a strong partner during the first half of 2007."

'An important step'

So now the deal has come to fruition, and Glyn Edwards, Antisoma's Chief Executive Officer, says it provides both extra resources and new strategic options for the company. "We plan to use it as a springboard to further expand our pipeline and to exploit the value in our present portfolio." The group also said that it "is also an important step along the way to making Antisoma a significant and self-sustaining bio-pharmaceutical company."