The UK’s Shire says that it has licensed the North American rights to its experimental HIV drug SPD754 to Australian biotechnology company Avexa.

Under the terms of the deal, Shire will receive an upfront payment of $10 million in exchange for the rights to SPD754 (apricitabine), as well as unspecified amounts of development and sales-related milestones and royalties. It will also receive eight million Avexa shares, taking its stake in the Melbourne-based company to just over 8%.

This latest link-up is an extension of an agreement signed in January 2005 when Shire licensed the right to develop and commercialise apricitabine throughout the world, excluding North America, to Avexa. The drug is currently in Phase IIb trials.

"We are very happy with Avexa's progress in developing apricitabine" said Barbara Deptula, Shire's executive vice president for business development "and look forward to continuing this positive collaboration as the product progresses through the development process to full commercialisation."

Avexa’s chief executive Julian Chick was pleased to get hold of full worldwide rights to market the drug as this “greatly enhances our commercialisation strategy for apricitabine and provides us more flexibility for taking the project forward.'' Avexa shares jumped almost 18% on the news.