Newron in Talks to License Experimental Schizophrenia Drug

  • Possible deal may come in second half, CEO says in interview
  • Potential buyers await key data to be released in March

Newron Pharmaceuticals SpA has held initial discussions with potential partners about licensing an experimental drug to treat schizophrenia, a mental health condition with no cure.

“We see a good chance of a licensing deal in the second half of the year,” Chief Executive Officer Stefan Weber said in a telephone interview late on Tuesday.

Among the 10 to 15 drugmakers with a stake in the $24 billion market for schizophrenia treatments, Weber cited Eli Lilly & Co., Roche Holding AG, Novartis AG, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd and Otsuka Holdings Co. Ltd. Any potential partner will want to see more data from a mid-stage trial whose full details will be unveiled in March, he said.

The experimental medicine, called evenamide, is a potential blockbuster, according to Weber. Blockbuster is the industry term for medicines with at least $1 billion in annual sales. The Bresso, Italy-based company plans to release details about a phase II clinical test at an industry conference in March -- the same month another medicine, the first innovative drug for Parkinson’s disease in a decade, may get a ruling from U.S. regulators.

A licensing deal would allow Newron to devote its 45 million euros ($48 million) in funds to push another experimental drug it deems even more promising: Sarizotan, for a rare disease without a cure known as Rett Syndrome, according to Weber. The medicine is in advanced tests but finding patients with the neurological disorder to run a reliable test is taking time.

Newron shares rose 2.7 percent to 23 Swiss francs at 9:33 a.m. in Zurich trading, giving the company a market value of 363 million francs. Earlier, the stock rose to 23.45 francs, the highest in more than three months.

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