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NicOx/AstraZeneca: Transparency vs. Partnering

Executive Summary

AstraZeneca's news that nitric oxide donator AZD 3582 had failed to reach a primary end-point in a Phase II trial sent originator NicOx's shares plummeting, as investors lost faith in the biotech's entire platform. NicOx is disputing the data's accuracy in an attempt to salvage investor confidence--and to survive. The events highlight the tension between Big Pharma's duties to investor transparency and to protect its biotech partners. They're also a reminder to biotechs that there's more to deals than just royalties.

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Merck's Deal Focus

Merck & Co. Inc.'s recovery drive involves changing every aspect of its business, and doing so urgently. That urgency applies to partnering, too: In March 2006, the giant announced three new deals, one with NicOx on a series of anti-hypertension compounds, one with Neuromed in pain and the third with Paratek Pharmaceuticals Inc. for a Phase I antibiotic. They mark a shift at Merck towards more clinical stage dealmaking.

NicOx Eyes Continued Comeback with Second Pfizer Deal

In early March, Pfizer licensed all ophthalmic rights to NicOx's nitric-oxide donating technology platform, just months after selecting and licensing a preclinical glaucoma candidate from the firms' previous, more narrow, collaboration. The moves have buoyed NicOx, which has been in the investor doghouse since 2003 when AstraZeneca chose to discontinue development of the firm's lead product, which was in Phase II trials for osteoarthritis pain.

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