Tucson-based Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals Inc. has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with a Swiss drug company for European and Japanese rights to develop and commercialize a gastrointestinal-cancer-prevention drug.

The local company could get payments of more than $100 million over time for hitting drug development and sales milestones, as part of its agreement with Tillotts Pharma AG, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tokyo-based Zeria Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals said.

The deal involves development of a combination of Cancer Prevention’s lead product, CPP-1X, and an anti-inflammatory drug, sulindac, to treat familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and other gastrointestinal conditions.

FAP is a rare, inherited disease that causes widespread growth of polyps in the colon that usually lead to colon cancer if not removed through surgery.

The reported incidence of familial adenomatous polyposis varies from 1 in 7,000 to 1 in 22,000 people, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cancer Prevention is responsible for product development and Tillotts for regulatory and marketing for the respective markets. Zeria will be responsible for development and marketing in Japan, and Cancer Prevention retains all rights to CPP-1X/sulindac outside of Europe and Japan and outside the gastrointestinal field, the company said.

A Phase 3 clinical trial started in Europe in October to test the safety and effectiveness of the CPP-1X/sulindac combination. Last April, Cancer Prevention launched a three-year, Phase 3 clinical trial of the polyp drug combination with the National Cancer Institute.

Jeff Jacob, chairman and CEO of Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals, said the licensing agreement is a major step for the drug company, which was co-founded by Eugene W. Gerner, a University of Arizona professor emeritus and Arizona Cancer Center member and the company’s chief scientific officer.

“Tillotts and Zeria share our belief in the great potential of CPP-1X/sulindac in familial adenomatous polyposis, an orphan indication with limited treatment options,” Jacob said in prepared remarks.

Thomas A. Toth von Kisker, CEO of Tillotts, said the deal is an important step in the company’s efforts to build its product portfolio and help patients with gastrointestinal diseases.

“We believe it has the potential to be an important new therapy for gastrointestinal conditions with a high medical need,” Dirk Reckert, Tillotts’ chief business development officer, said in a news release.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.