Merck KGaA of Germany has strengthened its position in the oncology market by acquiring most of the global rights to the colorectal cancer treatment UFT (tegafur-uracil) from Taiho Pharmaceutical Co of Japan.

As part of the deal, Taiho will supply the capsules to Merck for its territories, but is retaining the rights in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. Financial details were not disclosed.

Explaining the rationale behind the agreement, Merck said that UFT, which is an oral chemotherapy that already has marketing approval in around 60 countries (but not the USA), will complement its current colorectal cancer drug, the monoclonal antibody Erbitux (cetuximab) which is marketed in 39 countries. Elmar Schnee, the Darmstadt-based firm’s president of global ethical pharmaceuticals claimed that “our sales representatives are already discussing Erbitux with oncologists who specialise in the treatment of gastro-intestinal cancers. Adding UFT to the discussion is a natural fit.”

The chance of getting hold of UFT came about after Bristol-Myers Squibb recently returned worldwide rights of the product to Taiho for strategic business reasons. B-MS acquired the rights in 1995 and a “smooth transition” to Merck is anticipated.