Spectrum partners up on new program for rituximab biosimilar

Spectrum Pharmaceuticals ($SPPI) is jumping into the biosimilar business. In a brief announcement this morning, the Irvine, CA-based biotech said that it has inked a deal with Viropro to develop a follow-on to rituximab, a mega-blockbuster monoclonal antibody with $5.6 billion in annual revenue.

"We are excited at the opportunity to develop our own proprietary biosimilar formulation of rituximab in anticipation of patent expirations for rituximab over the coming years," said Spectrum CEO Rajesh Shrotriya. Their target is one of the big cancer products that fueled the growth of Genentech. It's used to fight non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic lymphoma. Spectrum has two approved products: Zevalin and Fusilev.

Spectrum has also been an active development player in recent times. Close to a year ago, it paid $30 million upfront and promised up to $320 million more in milestones to partner on a late-stage cancer drug from TopoTarget for relapsed or refractory peripheral T-cell lymphoma. It's also been working on a late-stage program for apaziquone and recently shuttered a disappointing program for a drug that fights enlarged prostate.

The biosimilar business still has a long way to go in the U.S., as regulators hammer out the rules this year on the development of new therapies that can compete with aging biologics. But the business is getting well established in Europe, and analysts expect to see a number of developers with deep pockets push into the field.

- here's the Spectrum release