AstraZeneca, SkyePharma Gain on Asthma Drug

Shares of SkyePharma ( SKYE) and AstraZeneca ( AZN) rose after the companies announced that a new version of their asthma treatment, Pulmicort, had completed phase III clinical trials.

The companies have been working on a version of Pulmicort, an inhaled corticosteroid used to fight asthma, using a hydrofluoroalkane, or HFA, propellant instead of chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, which is being phased out because it destroys the ozone layer. Replacing CFC with HFA is no simple matter -- the change in propellants can alter the amount of medicine dispensed through the inhaler, hence the need for additional testing.

Under the terms of agreements signed in December 2001, SkyePharma will receive a milestone payment upon delivery of the final phase III report to AstraZeneca, which is expected sometime this fall. All told, SkyePharma could receive up to $12 million in milestone payments for its work on Pulmicort, with additional royalties once its inhaler goes on sale.

"The completion of the phase III trial of the HFA-MDI version of Pulmicort that we have developed for AstraZeneca is an important milestone towards eventual commercialization and also towards validation of our metered dose inhaler formulation technology," said Michael Ashton, SkyePharma's CEO.

In reaction to the news, shares of SkyePharma rose 38 cents, or 3.4%, to $11.66, while AstraZeneca rose 45 cents, or 1%, to $45.05.

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