Shares in GPC Biotech have soared after the German firm said it is looking to merge its business with fellow oncology-focused group Agennix, based in Houston, USA.

Under the structure of the proposed deal, GPC is being merged into a new German company which will hold all of Agennix’ shares and also receive a cash contribution of 15 million euros from investment company dievini Hopp Biotech. The latter is run by the entrepreneur Dietmar Hopp, co-founder of the software giant SAP and one of GPC’s largest shareholders.

The agreement, which requires shareholder approval, gives Agennix shareholders 48% “economic ownership” of the new company. GPC stockholders will have 39.3% and the remaining 12.7% will be held by dievini Hopp BioTech.

The new entity’s lead compound will be Agennix' talactoferrin. The oral drug is being developed for lung, kidney and other cancers, as well as for severe sepsis. The compound has recently entered Phase III trials for non-small cell lung cancer.

The new entity will also develop topical talactoferrin for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers; and GPC’s RGB-286638, a novel multi-targeted kinase inhibitor currently in Phase 1 for advanced solid tumours. GPC added that it is currently talking with Japanese partner Yakult Honsha Co over further development plans for satraplatin.

A filing for the latter compound as a treatment for prostate cancer was pulled in July 2007 after GPC received a negative response from the US Food and Drug Administration’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee. That decision set off a turbulent time for the Martinsried-based group, which was forced into a series of restructurings and 80% of its workforce was cut.

The link-up with Agennix is therefore welcome news, and chief executive Bernd Seizinger said that the “skill set and programmes that the Agennix team brings to the combined organisation is highly complementary to our own group and pipeline”. He added that “together we will be able to build a new and vital company that is focused on developing important new treatments for cancer”.

His counterpart at Agennix, Rick Barsky, said that GPC's “years of oncology development expertise, along with their public company profile and solid financial position, make this merger an excellent fit for us”. He added that the transaction “brings us the critical human and financial resources to accelerate the development” of talactoferrin.