Spain’s Zeltia says that its PharmaMar unit has regained the Japanese rights to its cancer agent Yondelis from partner Johnson & Johnson.

Yondelis (trabectedin) was licensed to J&J unit Ortho Biotech in August 2001 but during this time specific clinical trials in Japan were not put in motion. The rights have now been returned and PharmaMar will also receive $10 million from Ortho and get a milestone payment when the marketing authorisation for Yondelis in Japan is finally granted.

Zeltia noted that it is already “at an advanced stage of negotiations” with another potential licensee for Japan. The Madrid-headquartered firm added that this latest development will have no impact on its existing relationship with J&J in respect to Yondelis in any other country of the world. Approval for the drug as a treatment for soft tissue sarcoma has already been granted in Europe, plus Korea and Macau, while marketing applications have been submitted by Ortho in Singapore, Hong-Kong, Brazil, Russia, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Israel, Mexico and Ukraine.

Zeltia has been pleased with the take-up of Yondelis, which went on sale in the UK and Germany, its first two markets, last October. The company recently noted that sales for the six months since launch had 13.5 million euros, compared to an earlier forecast of 9.8 million euros, but the most impressive growth will come if Yondelis is approved in ovarian cancer.

PharmaMar is waiting for the final results of a Phase III study in that indication before submitting applications to European and US regulators. Zeltia chairman Jose Maria Fernandez Sousa recently said total sales for Yondelis would rise to 400 million euros from 100 million euros once the ovarian cancer approval comes through, hopefully next year.

Mr Fernandez Sousa has also previously said that the company hopes to float its Neuropharma neurodegenerative disease unit before the end of the year.