AstraZeneca licenses new Alzheimer treatment

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AstraZeneca, the UK's No 2 pharmaceutical company, has signed its third deal in as many business days, bolstering its pipeline of new drugs with the licensing of an experimental treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

The company is paying $10m (£6m) upfront to the private US biotech Targacept to license the treatment, and could pay up to $300m in total over the next few years if the product is successful.

As well as Alzheimer's, the product could be used to tackle confusion and lack of attention associated with schizophrenia - a disease for which AstraZeneca has one of the fastest-growing medicines.

Targacept is conducting the second of three phases of trials of its experimental drug, codenamed TC-1734. It is one of a class of drugs that acts on the same parts of the nervous system as nicotine to improve memory, attention span and mood, as well as extending cell survival.

Bob Holland, the head of neuroscience at AstraZeneca, said the collaboration on TC-1734 could become an important plank in the UK giant's work developing drugs for areas of unmet medical need in Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and other cognitive disorder. He said: "We believe that Targacept's longstanding leadership position in neuronal nicotinic receptor research will build upon our existing strengths and open up new opportunities for AstraZeneca."

TC-1734 is AstraZeneca's fourth deal this month. David Brennan, who takes over as chief executive from Sir Tom McKillop next week, has said he will make it a priority to license products or acquire companies to fill what the City perceives as a threadbare portfolio of drugs to replace the current generation of blockbusters towards the end of the decade.

Last Thursday, AstraZeneca signed a deal with a headline value of up to $1bn to license a new pill that could dramatically cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people with clogged arteries. And at the start of the month, it agreed to pay up to £195m to the UK-listed Protherics for a drug to tackle sepsis, the bloodstream infection from which George Best died last month. Most of the headline value of these deals is contingent on successful trials, regulatory approval and strong early product sales. In all, AstraZeneca has paid just £60m upfront for the three in-licensed products.

It is also paying $210m to acquire a private UK biotech company, KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, which is developing cancer drugs, a deal it unveiled last Friday.