AstraZeneca has agreed to license Starpharma’s DEP® drug delivery platform to co-develop and co-commercialize oncology compounds against an unspecified “defined family” of targets, expanding a collaboration between the companies marking its third anniversary this month.

Under the deal, disclosed yesterday by Starpharma, AstraZeneca could pay Starpharma up to $126 million for the first AstraZeneca DEP product, and up to $93.3 million for each subsequent qualifying product, plus royalties.

The DEP platform uses Starpharma’s own dendrimers, with the aim of enhancing the dosing and efficacy characteristics of new drugs. Starpharma cited preclinical studies of DEP conjugates with a number of different cancer drugs, which the company said have already established improved efficacy and reduced toxicities compared to marketed versions.

Starpharma’s licensing agreement with AstraZeneca focuses on novel compounds, not on unmodified drugs in currently marketed formulations.

“[Monday]’s agreement with AstraZeneca is an exciting development for Starpharma and its DEP platform. It follows a successful collaboration in which Starpharma’s DEP drug delivery technology has been applied to an important AstraZeneca oncology candidate,” Starpharma CEO Jackie Fairley said in a statement.

Fairley did not name the candidate. Starpharma said last year that the companies agreed to apply its technology to an unnamed “cancer drug from AstraZeneca’s pipeline,” under an expanded collaboration agreement signed in April 2014. Under that agreement, AstraZeneca agreed to provide funding for a preclinical stage cancer research program to be conducted jointly.

The companies first agreed to partner in September 2012, with AstraZeneca gaining the right to test undisclosed Starpharma oncology molecules based on Starpharma’s dendrimer technology. AstraZeneca agreed to undertake oncology studies using specific Starpharma drug-dendrimer conjugate molecules.

The aim of those studies was to assess the suitability of the dendrimer constructs for applications within the cancer field, Starpharma said at the time.

In the latest agreement, AstraZeneca agreed to pay Starpharma $2 million upfront, up to $64 million tied to milestones for initial product, development and launch, and up to $60 million tied to achieving specified annual sales levels. The license agreement allows for additional products to be incorporated, with development and regulatory milestone payments of up to $53.3 million, and potential sales milestones based on specified annual sales levels for qualifying additional products of up to $40 million.

Any AstraZeneca DEP products would also attract tiered royalties on net sales, Starpharma added.

“We estimate that each qualifying product successfully commercialized under this agreement could be worth over its life around $450 million to Starpharma and, depending on the range of indications and degree of commercial success in the market, potentially significantly more,” Dr. Fairley said.

Starpharma retains all rights outside of a well-defined and narrow area of application, Dr. Fairley added, “meaning that its platform remains unencumbered and available for licensing in the vast majority of oncology and other applications for future deals with other partners.”

Speaking with Australia’s Fairfax Media, Dr. Fairley said the latest agreement with AstraZeneca “demonstrates the value of the technology and really underlines the optionality of the platform. AstraZeneca was keen to secure rights not to just one product but for a number of different products.”

The AstraZeneca licensing deal, Starpharma stated, will not negatively impact other development programs, including its lead internal development candidate, a wholly-owned DEP docetaxel product. According to Starpharma, DEP docetaxel continues to demonstrate excellent tolerability and improved pharmacokinetics in the clinic compared with the available data for its reference drug, Taxotere®.

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