July 9, 2006

Eisai launches snail venom pain drug in Britain

LONDON (Reuters) - A new pain drug based on the venom of a
deadly sea snail was launched in Britain on Monday, offering
hope to patients with chronic pain who do not respond to or
cannot tolerate treatments like morphine.

Japanese drugmaker Eisai Co Ltd, which acquired European
rights to Prialt from Ireland's Elan Corp Plc, is marketing the
medicine first in Britain before rolling it out in other
European markets.

The drug is the synthetic equivalent of a substance
produced by the predatory cone snail Conus magus, found off the
Philippines, which uses it in a venomous "harpoon" to paralyze

In humans, it shuts down pain pathways by stopping nerve
cells from sending signals to the brain.

The drug is extremely potent and can cause side effects
including dizziness, nausea and blurred vision.

It is only designed for a small group of patients with
cancer and other serious conditions linked to severe pain and
is delivered through a tiny pump directly into fluid
surrounding the spinal cord.

Eisai agreed in February to pay Elan up to $100 million for
European rights to Prialt, which industry analysts expect to be
a niche product with modest sales.

In the United States, where Elan kept rights, the drug sold
$6.3 million in 2005 after being launched in the first quarter.

Prialt will cost 271.83 pounds ($499.7) in Britain for a
vial containing 100 micrograms. The average final dose used in
studies testing the drug was 7.2 micrograms per patient a day.