AZ drops its option on Targacept schizophrenia program

Targacept is being forced to write off another potentially lucrative partnership deal. Staring at a $30 million payment, AstraZeneca has decided to walk away from its option to develop an experimental schizophrenia drug which recently cleared a Phase II hurdle at Targacept. If AstraZeneca had picked up the option, it would also have committed itself to $212 million in milestones on the drug, which now stands at the threshold of Phase III. Just two months ago Targacept announced that GlaxoSmithKline had cancelled a $1.5 billion development pact as a result of the Big Pharma's decision to back out of R&D programs for CNS.

Targacept had tapped TC-5619 as one of its most promising programs, recently unveiling promising mid-stage data on improving cognition among schizophrenics. But Targacept CEO Don deBethizy had already indicated that the biotech was ready to go it alone if necessary.

"It's clear that the compound's use with schizophrenia could be a game changer, so if AstraZeneca licenses it, then there would be a lot more resources that could be dedicated to other potential uses, such as ADHD and Alzheimer's," deBethizy told the Winston-Salem Journal in March. "If we tackle TC-5619 on our own, schizophrenia will take precedent, but we now have a foundation to guide future development of TC-5619." And in a release today deBethizy showed no signs of backing away from the program now.

"Our clinical results indicate the unique potential of TC-5619 to treat negative and cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, a critical need not met by currently available treatments, and we are unwavering in our enthusiasm for the compound," said the CEO. "We look forward to announcing our development plans soon."

Targacept and AstraZeneca also renewed their vows to remain partnered on the biotech's lead drug. Targacept's TC-521, is being co-developed with AstraZeneca and is in Phase III clinical studies as an adjunct treatment for major depression.

- check out the Targacept release
- here's the story from the Winston-Salem Journal