Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another Co-Promote Bites the Dust

When Merck and partner Neuromed yesterday pulled the plug on Phase II chronic pain treatment NMED-160/MK-6721, another co-promote bit the dust, too.

More proof, then, that most co-promote options built into today’s biotech-pharma licensing deals are just window-dressing—comfort cushions for biotech investors dreaming of drug revenues and spec pharma success. Earlier this year we laid out in IN VIVO some of the reasons why fewer than 10% of co-promotes actually turn into market-place reality.

That statistic reassures the Big Pharma partner—most of which hate the thought of sharing their commercial spoils with inexperienced biotech, even if some of them say otherwise. But the main reason co-promote promises don’t often become reality is product discontinuation, as in this case, which helps no-one.

Luckily for Neuromed, the aborted program, an N-type calcium channel blocker, wasn’t its lead. Not since April 2007 anyway, when the biotech licensed US rights to a Phase III extended-release opioid analgesic OROS Hydromorphone from Johnson & Johnson’s Alza.

This deal means Neuromed may yet fulfil its dream, shared with most other biotechs, of setting up its own specialist sales force. And Neuromed may yet get to co-promote products with Merck, since the 2006 deal granted the biotech the option to co-promote to US specialists any N-type calcium channel blockers emerging from the collaboration—and the partners say they’ll keep looking for others.

But with NMED-160/MK-6721 gone, at least in pain, Neuromed will miss out on at least $202 million in milestones, and possibly more. It also paid $30 million up front for OROS. That product had better make it onto the US market (it's approved in Europe, but still not in the US, seven years after an approvable letter ). Otherwise private Neuromed may be in danger of biting the dust, too.

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