AstraZeneca signs drug delivery licensing deal with Starpharma potentially worth $126M+

DEP delivery tech--Courtesy of StarPharma

AstraZeneca ($AZN) allied with Starpharma on drug delivery, in a licensing deal that could yield the Australian company up to $126 million from the development and commercialization of one of the Big Pharma's oncology candidates, and up to $93.3 million for each subsequent product.

The partnership builds on a previous collaboration between the companies inked in 2012. Since then, Starpharma's DEP dendrimer-conjugate platform has been applied to an AstraZeneca oncology candidate.

The drug delivery technology consists of a large molecule known as a dendrimer made of layers of monomers, most often the amino acid lysine. The drug is conjugated to the dendrimer.

Crucially, various linker molecules between the drug and the dendrimer can be used to achieve different drug delivery feats. In the simplest case a permanent linker can be used if the dendrimer does not affect efficacy, as is the case with insulin, Starpharma says.

Alternatively an unstable linker that degrades at a specified half-life can be used for sustained release, or linkers that degrade at a low pH or exposure to a certain enzyme can be used for targeted release, such as the site of a tumor. In addition antibodies or other targeting agents can be added to dendrimer delivery vehicle, enabling drug delivery to a certain receptor.

Starpharma says its technology can result in improved solubility, less off-target toxicity, and ultimately, improved efficacy. If so, success with AstraZeneca candidates would lead to a large payday for the company.

Starpharma CEO Dr. Jackie Fairley said in a statement that successful commercialization of qualifying products would lead to $450 million per drug for the company.

But only $2 million is guaranteed for the oncology candidate, with development milestones worth up to $64 million and sales milestones worth up to $60 million. For subsequent drugs aimed a defined family of targets and based on Starpharma's DEP dendrimer-conjugate delivery platform, development milestones are worth up to $53.3 million and sales milestones are worth up to $40 million. Starpharma is also eligible for tiered royalties on net sales.

AstraZeneca will fund all development and commercialization costs under the agreement.

Starpharma stressed that the agreement does not encumber the company or prevent it from future licensing deals. "The fact that this deal is structured for multiple products underlines the real potential for additional upside for both companies. It is worth noting that Starpharma retains all rights outside of a well-defined and narrow area of application, meaning that its platform remains unencumbered and available for licensing in the vast majority of oncology and other applications for future deals with other partners," Starpharma's Fairley said.

Using the DEP platform, Starpharma is developing the antiviral and antibacterial Vivagel franchise to prevent bacterial vaginosis, HIV and genital herpes. The compound is already available in some condoms, according to the company website.

The company's reformulation of Sanofi's ($SNY) blockbuster chemotherapy drug Taxotere is in Phase I. Starpharma says that conjugating the drug's active ingredient to its demdrimers results in better efficacy and lower toxicity. 

- read the release