Novartis ($NVS) writes off $120M and the once-promising ASA404

Seven months after investigators pulled the plug on a failed late-stage trial of the once-promising cancer therapy ASA404, Novartis ($NVS) announced it is dumping its partnership with Antisoma and writing off $120 million to complete the burial ceremony.

Back in 2007, ASA404 exhibited considerable potential as a first-line therapy for non-small cell lung cancer, and Novartis eagerly signed up for a big licensing deal with the U.K. developer. Novartis paid $75 million upfront and $25 million on the launch of the Phase III study, part of $890 million in milestones that were up for grabs. And the news revived the clamoring among analysts over Novartis' looming patent expirations on key products.

The news today was anything but a surprise. Back in March, Antisoma CEO Glyn Edwards frankly accepted that the program was unlikely to be resuscitated after a full assessment of the results. Researchers stopped the late-stage trial for non-small cell lung cancer after determining that they were unlikely to gain evidence of a survival benefit. Edwards immediately announced a shift in focus to two leukemia drug programs further down the pipeline as the company's stock lost 72 percent of its value.

- here's the Novartis release