Celltech may abandon launch of treatment for Crohn's disease

Celltech shareholders suffered a double blow yesterday when the company said it was considering abandoning the launch of its most advanced new drug and would halve its US salesforce.

The drug, Humicade, was being tested as a treatment for Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation of the gut, and had been expected on the market next year. But clinical trials failed to show it was effective.

The data suggests Humicade could still be useful in the treatment of acute forms of the disease, but Celltech said it would talk to US and European regulators to establish if it was likely to gain approval. Analysts predicted that, if the regulator said it would need additional trials to be carried out, the company would drop the product and concentrate development work on a second drug, CDP 870. This is a more effective product treating the same diseases as Humicade.

The company said it is to set up a specialist gastroenterology salesforce in advance of the launch of CDP 870, and that it had paid $6m to the US giant Pharmacia to license Dipentum, a treatment for an inflammatory bowel disorder which had sales of $11m in 2001.

But it is cutting its losses on Metadate, a once promising treatment for hyperactive children. The disappointing sales mean it can no longer sustain a US salesforce of 350, and this will be slashed to 170. The drug will no longer be actively marketed, and sales are unlikely to grow beyond the current $25m a year.

Metadate has struggled in the cut-throat US market for treating hyperactive children. Johnson & Johnson's Concerta has a 25 per cent market share and Shire Pharmaceuticals, the UK's number three drug company, will say later this week that it has won a 26 per cent share with its product Adderall.

Celltech shares fell more than 7 per cent to 397p.