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QLT's experimental eye drug could be worth "hundreds of millions"

By Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay

(Reuters) - Canadian eye drug developer QLT Inc's synthetic retinoid program, an experimental treatment for some inherited eye diseases that can cause blindness, could be worth "hundreds of millions" of dollars, the company's chairman said.

Several potential buyers have approached QLT for the program — its only remaining product after it sold its eye drug, Visudyne, to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc in September.

"We think the program's worth hundreds of millions ...," Chairman Jason Aryeh told Reuters, adding that the current stock price does not take into account the value of the retinoid program.

The company, valued by the market at $413 million, has about $400 million in cash on hand.

It has posted losses in the last 10 quarters as Visudyne lost market share to drugs such as Novartis AG's Lucentis.

QLT stopped generating revenue after the sale of the drug and has cut more than 80 percent of its workforce since July, a month after an activist investor's slate of nominees took control of the board.

Its synthetic retinoid compound, however, has received orphan drug status in the United States and Europe, raising hopes of a faster regulatory approval.

"We believe the board may be looking for a price in the range of $100-$200 million (for the retinoid program)," Bloom Burton & Co analyst Philippa Flint said in a recent note.

Aryeh said QLT would not pay a regular quarterly dividend but did not rule out the possibility of a one-time dividend.

QLT shares have remained nearly flat at C$7.87 this year. They traded around $120 in early 2000 when Visudyne was the company's key revenue generator.

(Corrects headline and first paragraph to remove reference to $750 million, which was based on a figure that the company says was "illustrative." It also replaces the quote in the third paragraph, rewrites the fourth paragraph to refer to the company's cash on hand, and removes the superfluous eighth paragraph.)

(Reporting by Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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