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AstraZeneca kicks tires on respiratory program ditched by J&J

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot is banking on a deep pipeline of respiratory meds to help revive the beleaguered drug giant. On the early-stage front, the London-based pharma company has agreed to evaluate preclinical compounds for breathing problems from the Swedish biotech Orexo, which shelved research of such assets last year after its major discovery pact with a Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) unit flatlined.

Uppsala-based Orexo has found a potential new lease on life for its OX-CLI program through the agreement with AstraZeneca ($AZN), which has been hungrily striking deals on drugs of all stages of development to kick-start its comeback from the bottom tier of R&D productivity in Big Pharma. For now, however, AstraZeneca is only doing more preclinical research on Orexo's preclinical assets as part of an evaluation that could lead the company to acquire the compounds.

Orexo will only get certain unspecified milestones and potential royalties on product sales if AstraZeneca decides to take its option to acquire the compounds.

Nevertheless, the OX-CLI program appears to have better prospects today than a year ago, when Orexo announced that J&J's Janssen unit handed back its rights to that program and another from the biotech, ending a discovery pact hailed back in 2010 for its potential to amount to more than half a billion dollars. In January 2012, Orexo said that without J&J's participation, the OX-CLI program would stop.

Orexo CEO Anders Lundström, who slashed the company's staff last year in a cost-saving move, struck a much more upbeat tone about the program today.

"Our OX-CLI program is a promising R&D project, which has potential to improve the treatment of respiratory diseases for millions of patients," he stated. "AstraZeneca, a leading global company within the inflammatory and respiratory area, is the optimal partner for OX-CLI and we look forward to see the project advancing."

Lundström needs AZ to pull the trigger on its option, though.

- here's the release

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