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Neoprobe licenses Alzheimer’s diagnosis imaging agent from AZN

Neoprobe (NYSE Amex:NEOP) has licensed from AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) the worldwide rights to an imaging drug candidate that could aid in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Neoprobe said it plans to begin a phase 3 clinical program involving the radiopharmaceutical imaging agent, called AZD4694, in early 2013, according to a statement from the Dublin, Ohio-based company.

The drug works by binding to Beta-amyloid deposits in the brain that can then be imaged in positron emission tomography (PET) scans. Beta-amyloid is a protein fragment that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

The deal calls for Neoprobe to make a $5 million up-front payment to AstraZeneca. Terms of the deal also include up to $6.5 million in payment, contingent upon the achievement of clinical and regulatory milestones, and another payment of up to $11 million, contingent upon regulatory approvals and the beginning of commercial sales. Neoprobe would also pay AstraZeneca royalties on any sales of an approved drug.

“We believe AZD4694 has a compelling global commercial outlook and should beneficially facilitate development of more effective disease-modifying therapies for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Thomas Tulip, Neoprobe’s chief business officer. “This potentially powerful second-generation agent with apparent best-in-class properties has demonstrated strong performance attributes.”

For Neoprobe, licensing the drug represents a move to add to its pipeline, which until now had consisted of two drug candidates, Lymphoseek and RIGScan. Lymphoseek is a targeting agent used by surgeons to identify lymph nodes in patients with breast cancer or melanoma and to indicate whether cancer has spread to a particular lymph node. Neoprobe hopes to receive regulatory approval of the drug by next summer.

RIGScan is a radiopharmaceutical targeting agent used to detect tumors left behind after colon cancer surgery. It’s several years from commercialization.

Earlier this year, Neoprobe sold off its radiation-detection device business — and the business’ name — to transform itself into a pure-play radiopharmaceuticals company. Some of the proceeds of that sale likely went toward the AstraZeneca deal.

Neoprobe last week revealed its new name, Navidea Biopharmaceuticals, though it chose to use the “Neoprobe” brand in making the announcement about the licensing agreement with AstraZeneca. Navidea’s new ticker symbol will be “NAVB,” as of Jan. 5.

Neoprobe executives are scheduled to discuss the AZN deal in a conference call with investors Tuesday morning.

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