Roche quits drugs deal with Antisoma

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Shares in the cancer specialist Antisoma fell yesterday after the Swiss drug maker Roche pulled out of a partnership to develop two cancer treatments. Roche returned the rights to the lung cancer treatment, AS1404, a potential blockbuster drug, despite promising results from clinical trials. The stock closed down 16 per cent at 19.25p.

A spokesman for Antisoma said the company would take a short-term hit in terms of missed milestone payments, estimated at $10m-$15m (£5m-£8m), and development costs. But he insisted Antisoma had enough cash (£23.5m at the last count in December) to take AS1404 into the final stage of trials without funding from Roche and there would be no delays. He conceded Antisoma would need further funding but was hopeful the group could secure another big pharmaceutical partner.

Roche said it wanted to focus on its own bulging pipeline of cancer drugs and stressed its strategic partnership with Antisoma was continuing.

Antisoma pointed to a disagreement with Roche over intellectual property rights, saying Roche was concerned that AS1404 had patent protection in the US only until 2012. Antisoma believes patents governing the long-running use of the drug, which run until 2020, are more important as the treatment works only in combination with other drugs.

All four of Antisoma's drugs in clinical trials are now being developed without a partner. Lung cancer patients who were given AS1404 with chemotherapy showed better survival rates compared with those on chemotherapy alone. The drug is also being tested on ovarian and prostate cancer sufferers.