Celltech, the UK's largest biotechnology group, has begun talks to license two exciting new potential cancer drugs to bigger pharmaceuticals groups better able to turn them into multimillion-pound products.
In an update on its pipeline of new drugs, news of progress on these two drugs helped offset disappointment that Bristol-Myers Squibb, another Big Pharma partner, has abandoned work on another Celltech product that was being trialled as a treatment for lung cancer.
Goran Ando, Celltech's new chief executive, said talks were already under way to find partners for a new drug codenamed CDP 791, which stalls the growth of blood vessels that feed tumours, and CDP 860, which hinders tumours' resistance to chemotherapy.
Mr Ando said: "Celltech's partnering approach, which enables us to limit our exposure to development costs in large-scale clinical programmes, remains an important component of maintaining an appropriate risk-reward profile for the company."
The Bristol Myers-Squibb collaboration had been established by Chiroscience, which Celltech bought in 1999, and had been entirely funded by the US giant. Analysts said the drug had always seemed likely to fail, coming from the same class of compounds as Marimistat, the notorious cancer pill once hailed by British Biotech as a potential blockbuster product, but which failed all its clinical trials.
Celltech also said yesterday that it would be offering positions to more of the Oxford GlycoSciences scientists than it had expected at the time of the acquisition of OGS for £101m in April. Celltech is trying to build up its expertise in oncology and will give more details on the integration of OGS later in the year.