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NZ firm signs new cancer drug R&D; deal

NZN 31/01/2017 Paul McBeth

The country's biggest drugs developer and manufacturer has signed a research and licensing deal with the University of Manchester to repurpose an HIV drug to prevent early-stage cervical cancer.

Auckland-based Douglas Pharmaceuticals will sponsor research at Manchester University to build on work, including a phase one trial in Kenya, that's found a drug commonly used to treat HIV was active against human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.

Douglas Pharmaceuticals would then manufacture the therapy and drive development, clinical trials and global commercialisation, focusing at first on a phase two clinical trial in the UK.

Chief executive Jeff Douglas told BusinessDesk the company has been working with Manchester University for almost two years, and if clinical trials in American and European centres are successful, then they would partner with a multinational company for an international roll-out.

Douglas said the Gardasil HPV vaccine had been successful in reducing cervical cancer where it had been rolled out, primarily in the US and Europe, although it was still a relatively new treatment in developed economies.

"There will be other patients requiring treatment that haven't been protected in poorer countries," he said.

Douglas Pharmaceuticals is on track to reach annual sales of $200 million in the current financial year, and has previously set a target of $244 million in revenue by 2020.

Douglas said repurposing existing drugs is "an important addition to our business" and while it's "far more expensive than some other work" the returns are better if it's successful, and it can provide new patent protection.

The company has just set up a new development business in the US, with a team on board in Pennsylvania, which Douglas said he expects to be operational in three months.

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