Hikma Pharmaceuticals has signed a deal to get access to Aeterna Zentaris' investigational cancer treatment perifosine for the Middle East and North Africa region.

Perifosine, an oral Akt inhibitor, is currently in two Phase III studies for the treatment of colorectal cancer and multiple myeloma in the USA and Europe. Hikma is giving the Canadian drugmaker an upfront fee and additional payments worth $2 million and will be responsible for the registration and commercialsation of perifosine in the MENA territory.

The Quebec-based firm will also be entitled to double-digit royalties on sales in the region. Aeterna Zentaris now has licensed out perifosine rights to Keryx Biopharmaceuticals for North America, to Yakult Honsha for Japan and to Handok for Korea.

Mazen Darwazah, Hikma's vice chairman, said the partnership gives the firm access to "a novel, oral anticancer treatment with excellent potential". He added that "we look forward to the Phase III results in colorectal cancer in 2012".

As well as colorectal cancer and multiple myeloma, the drug is also being developed for neuroblastoma, the most common cancer in infants aged less than one. The US Food and Drug Administration has granted orphan drug status to perifosine for the latter indication.