Novartis has licensed rights to long-acting bronchodilator for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, boosting its pipeline in this fast-growing therapeutic category.

The Swiss company stands to pay up to $375 million dollars in licensing fees and milestone payments in order to acquire the global rights to AD 237, an inhaled anti-muscarinic agent, from UK biotechnology companies Vectura and Arakis. Novartis said it plans to develop the new drug both as a monotherapy and in combination with QAB149, its once-daily beta2 agonist already in Phase II trials for COPD. AD 237 is in Phase II trials and has been developed using Vectura’s PowderHale inhalation technology [[19/08/03e]].

COPD, an umbrella term for a range of lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis that are caused by smoking, is the fourth most common cause of death worldwide and has emerged as a major new market for pharmaceuticals. COPD treatments are tipped to more than double from a current market value of $4 billion to reach $10 billion in 2010.

Vectura’s chief executive, Dr Chris Blackwell, said he expected AD 237 to expand the currently underserved COPD market. “Our objective is for AD 237 to be launched as a differentiated once-daily anti-muscarinic having potential patient benefits over the competition,” he added.

Currently leading the field in COPD therapy is Boehringer Ingelheim, whose muscarinic antagonist Spiriva (tiotropium) saw sales more than double last year to reach 532 million euros [[07/04/05d]]. The success of this product has stimulated the interest of companies with respiratory franchises – including GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, and Altana – which are all developing their own therapies for COPD.

Meanwhile, world number one Pfizer – traditionally not focused on respiratory diseases – has been making moves into COPD via its partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim on Spiriva [[07/04/05d]], and Altana on Daxas (roflumilast) [[29/10/04c]], as well as a research collaboration with Rigel Pharmaceuticals.