Protherics soars on blood disease deal with AstraZeneca

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The Independent Online

Shares in Protherics, the London- and New York-listed biotech company, soared more than 44 per cent yesterday to a five-year high of 81.5p, as the group announced a landmark £195m development and distribution deal for its CytoFab drug with AstraZeneca.

The drug, which tackles sepsis, the bloodstream infection from which footballer George Best eventually died last month, is in advanced-stage trials, and is close to being ready for market. Protherics will receive an initial £16.3m payment, while AstraZeneca will also take a 4.3 per cent stake in the company, buying the shares at a 30 per cent premium to Wednesday's closing share price.

The biotech firm will then receive additional payments of up to £171m as the drug passes certain milestones over the next few years, as well as royalty payments worth 20 per cent of net sales. Dr Andrew Heath, the chief executive of Protherics, said: "AstraZeneca has proven to be a focused and agile partner and as one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world, it has the clinical, regulatory and marketing strength to maximise the potential of CytoFab."

Dr John Patterson, the executive director of development at AstraZeneca, said: "CytoFab is an exciting opportunity for AstraZeneca to extend its infection franchise. By working together with Protherics, we now have the opportunity to build on the excellent phase IIb [drug trial] data already generated.

"Our goal is to make CytoFab the standard of care for patients with sepsis, improving their chances of recovery and reducing their length of stay in intensive care. We hope it will provide clinicians with a new means of addressing this devastating condition and ultimately, help save lives."

Protherics also announced its interim results for the six months to the end of September yesterday, posting a slight fall in revenues, and an increased operating loss. The total loss before tax was £3.7m, compared WITH a £600,000 profit in 2004.

Commenting on the results Stuart Wallis, the chairman, said: "We are very pleased to announce today our collaboration with AstraZeneca ... which we believe is one of the largest product licensing deals in anti-infectives in the last 10 years."