UK biotechnology firm SkyePharma has signed a deal with US-based First Horizon Pharmaceutical to develop a controlled-release formulation of the latter’s biggest drug, the antihypertensive Sular (nisoldipine).

SkyePharma already has an ongoing relationship with First Horizon after inking a $50 million agreement in 2004, plus 25% of first-year sales, to develop a new formulation of the lipid lowerer Triglide (fenofibrate) using its solubulisation technology. So this new signing will please both the UK biotech and its investors after a tumultuous period that saw its chairman and founder Ian Gowrie-Smith forced out, primarily because of failing to sign a deal for the star in its pipeline, the respiratory drug Flutiform (formoterol plus fluticasone). The firm finally linked hands with Kos Pharmaceuticals earlier this month in an agreement that is widely expected to bring in $165 million in milestone payments and royalties for the UK biotech.

SkyePharma is now concentrating on its orals and pulmonary business, after putting its injectables unit up for sale, and says this deal validates this strategy. SkyePharma will receive a mid-single digit royalty on net sales of Sular CR but, while milestone payments total just $5 million, First Horizon will fund all development costs for the new formulation and market it through its 450-strong speciality primary care sales team. First Horizon’s cardiovascular and metabolic portfolio brought in $145 million last year.