Pfizer has returned the rights to a rapamycin analogue programme it has been running to explore the potential of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus to the UK's Biotica Technology.

The privately-owned Cambridge-based group has regained full rights to the programme which began after a deal was signed in 2006 with Wyeth (acquired by the US giant in October 2009). Since then, Pfizer has investigated these compounds in several diseases, "and in particular has extensively profiled candidate drugs in MS and systemic lupus erythematosus".

Biotica says it intends to continue development in these indications but Pfizer is cutting back on its research activities and the project has been terminated. Mary Collins, chief scientific officer at the latter's immunology and autoimmunity research unit, said Pfizer had "enjoyed a productive collaboration with Biotica,” and the decision to return this programme was made as part of its portfolio review process.

Edward Hodgkin, Biotica's chief executive, is enthusiastic, saying that "our compounds are supported by a strong data package generated by Pfizer, and show evidence of meaningful differentiation in diseases with significant unmet need". Its pipeline of engineered polyketides also includes best-in-class anti-viral cyclophilin inhibitors.