- Amgen agreed to pay Japanese drugmaker Kyowa Kirin as much as $1.25 billion to gain access to an experimental eczema drug the companies claim has the potential to treat a range of autoimmune diseases.
- Under the deal, Kyowa Kirin will receive $400 million upfront and potentially as much as $850 million more if certain goals are met. Amgen plans to take charge of development, manufacturing and commercialization activities, except in Japan. Kyowa Kirin will hold co-promotion rights in the U.S. and can opt in to co-promote the product in certain other markets.
- The drug, dubbed KHK4083, is one of a group of medicines that target a protein known as OX40 and could treat several autoimmune conditions. Kyowa's drug is ready to be tested in a Phase 3 trial after previous research showed it could reduce the severity of eczema, which makes skin red, itchy and vulnerable to infection.
In joining forces with Kyowa Kirin, Amgen sought out a proven partner and one that helped turn the California biotech into a major company in the industry.
Kirin Holdings, the parent company of Kyowa Kirin, formed a joint venture in 1984 with Amgen to bring the first blockbuster in the biotech field, the anti-anemia drug Epogen, to market several years later. The venture also produced another anemia medication called Aranesp as well as several treatments for dangerously low levels of white blood cells or platelets (Neulasta, Neuopen and Nplate).
This time around, Amgen and Kyowa are focusing on anti-inflammatory diseases, starting with eczema. KHK4083 is an antibody that targets the protein OX40, a key immune regulator thought to play a role in the overactive inflammatory response that triggers eczema.
Successfully targeting OX40 could open a new way of treating autoimmune conditions, as it may help balance the immune system without broadly suppressing its activity. That type of potential, for instance, is what drew French drugmaker Sanofi to buy U.K. biotech Kymab for $1.1 billion in January. Kymab's experimental anti-OX40 antibody, KY1005, succeeded in a mid-stage study in eczema last year.
Kyowa's drug followed with a similarly positive result in February, though the company has yet to disclose full study details, such as the size of the treatment benefit and a close look at the drug's safety profile. Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat noted, for example, that fever and chills were reported in early testing of Kyowa's drug. On a conference call on Tuesday, Amgen executives said those side effects were a "first dose phenomenon" and are associated with other antibodies, according to a research note from Raffat.
Sanofi is a leader in the treatment market for eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. The company’s drug Dupixent, co-developed with Regeneron, earned more than 1 billion euros, or $1.2 billion, in sales in the first quarter and is on track to reach peak annual revenue of more than 10 billion euros, according to Sanofi. Dupixent is also approved to treat asthma and a condition that causes chronic nasal and sinus irritation.
All told, eczema affects almost 30 million people in major markets around the world, according to Amgen. As many as 20% of children and 3% of adults suffer from the condition.
The Kyowa Kirin drug also fits into Amgen’s plans to build a stronger presence in anti-inflammatory diseases. In March, Amgen said it would buy privately held Rodeo Therapeutics, which is working to develop therapies that promote tissue repair and regeneration.