* ExonHit looking for partner to develop Alzheimer drug * Evaluating opportunities to expand in diagnostics
* Plans to market Alzheimer's diagnostics test in Q4
PARIS, March 4 (Reuters) - ExonHit Therapeutics (ALEHT.PA) is on the prowl for partnerships to enhance the development of its pipeline as it is gearing up to launch its first product, a test for Alzheimer's, the French drug and diagnostics firm said.
Transforming itself into an "emerging healthcare player", ExonHit called 2009 a "pivotal year" when it aims to launch its blood diagnostics test for Alzheimer's disease and have mid-stage trial data ready for Alzheimer's treatment EHT 0202.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in the aging population. The World Health Organization in 2001 said the number of people suffering from the ailment could nearly double to 34 million by 2025.
"In therapeutics, our strategy is to out-license our products or programs to maximize returns on investment," Chairman Loic Maurel said in a statement. "In diagnostics, we plan to take products to the market and are ... evaluating opportunities to strengthen our portfolio and capabilities."
ExonHit had enough cash at the end of 2008 for the next two years at least, it said on Wednesday. It had 21 million euros available at the end of 2008, down from 31.3 million in 2007.
Investments would be geared to developing its key products, like EHT 0202, and to marketing and preparation of EHT Dx21's launch in the second half of the year, if the Alzheimer diagnostics test wins approval from healthcare authorities.
ExonHit plans to market EHT Dx21 in the last quarter of 2009 first as a product that will only be used in research in the clinical trial market in 2010 and in the clinical diagnostic market through a partnering model.
For its main EHT 0202 Alzheimer drug, Exonhit hopes to find a partner to help it further develop the treatment. The partner hunt would take place after the Phase IIa clinical data due in the final quarter of this year, Exonhit said.
ExonHit said last month it had already met with several pharmaceutical companies which were looking forward to the mid-stage results.
Founded in 1997, ExonHit reported its net loss widened to 8.9 million euros from 7.3 million in 2007, partly due to higher spending on research and development and rising tax payments. Revenues fell to 4.2 million euros from 5.4 million when it received a milestone payment from its partner Allergan AGN.N.
ExonHit shares rose as much as 10.8 percent and were up nearly 4 percent at 2.41 euros by 0956 GMT taking the company's market value to 65 million euros. The stock has lost roughly 13 percent this year. (Reporting by Caroline Jacobs; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)