Private UK biotechnology firm Pharminox has signed a deal with US drug major Schering-Plough which could be worth up to $40 million.

The two firms have agreed to undertake a joint research programme aimed at discovering novel small molecule anti-cancer therapies, with Schering-Plough providing the cash for Pharminox for up to two years to carry out “a focused medicinal chemistry programme to synthesise novel anticancer agents.”

These will then be screened for anti-tumour activity at Schering-Plough’s laboratories in Kenilworth, New Jersey, and the US firm will have an option to license intellectual property arising from the programme, including potential clinical development candidates.

$40 million for Pharminox?

If any products come out of the collaboration, Pharminox will receive a series of pre-approval milestone payments as well as royalties. Excluding the latter, the total package could bring in $40 million for the Nottingham-based firm, and chief executive Peter Worrall said: “As our first deal with a major pharmaceutical company it represents an important validation of Pharminox’s credentials in the field of cancer research.”

Pharminox was formed in 2002 as a spin-out from Oxford University, and its chief scientific officer is Prof Malcolm Stevens. Until September 2006, he was also Director of the Cancer Research UK Experimental Cancer Chemotherapy Group, and was responsible for the discovery and early development of temozolomide for malignant glioma.

Temozolomide is licensed to Schering-Plough, which markets the drug as Temodal, and Mr Worrall said the Pharminox deal “reflects the high regard that Schering-Plough has for Prof Stevens and his team as a result of their earlier, highly successful collaboration.”