Neuromed Pharmaceuticals Ltd., Conshohocken, said today that it will pay an initial $30 million to license an extended-release version of the potent opioid pain drug hydromorphone from Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Alza Corp.

The drug - which is five to 10 times more potent than morphine - is currently sold in Germany and some Scandinavian countries under the name Jurnista, and has received conditional approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Neuromed said it expects one successful Phase 3 clinical trial will be needed to win U.S. approval for a once-daily version of hydromorphone. Alza retains marketing rights outside the U.S.

Neuromed, a spinoff biotechnology company from the University of British Columbia, last year licensed several drug compounds to Merck & Co. Neuromed's lead compound selectively blocks N-type calcium channels to prevent transmission of neuropathic and inflammatory pain signals.

Neuromed said it will make an upfront payment of $30 million to Alza, and future regulatory milestone payments and royalties based on product sales.

Neuromed's executive team and eight employees are in Conshohocken, and 69 employees work in Vancouver, Canada. Neuromed said it is looking to license additional pain drugs to bolster its product line.