UK drugmaker Vernalis is increasing its focus on the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Earlier today, the group announced the $23 million purchase of exclusive rights in North America to the marketed product PD agent Apokyn (apomorphine hydrochloride injection) from the USA’s Mylan, as well as the formation of a new partnership with Britannia Pharmaceuticals Ltd to explore the development of new formulations of the compound.

Apokyn is indicated for the treatment of acute, intermittent “off” episodes - debilitating periods of complete or partial immobility - associated with advanced PD. The agent was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration as an Orphan Drug in April last year and was launched in the USA in July 2004, where it has market exclusivity until 2011.

Vernalis estimates that 2006 sales of Apokyn in North America will fall in the $6 million-$7.5 million range, but the group notes that, as part of the acquisition, it is committed to completing certain Phase IV studies and these costs, together with the early marketing and promotional costs, mean that the product is unlikely to be cash generative initially.

Commenting on the move, Simon Sturge, Vernalis’ chief executive, said “Apokyn is a significant acquisition for Vernalis and provides a second marketed product, alongside frovatriptan, for our sales force to promote to specialist neurologists in North America. The addition of Apokyn firmly establishes our Parkinson’s disease franchise, which also includes V2006, being developed in partnership with Biogen Idec on which we have retained co-promotion rights in the United States.”

Under its agreement with Britannia, which should serve to further strengthen its PD franchise, the group has granted Vernalis exclusive rights to: use Britannia’s technology to develop a continuous subcutaneous infusion of apomorphine in North America; and negotiate terms to develop a nasal powder formulation of the agent. Financial details were not disclosed.