- AstraZeneca said Monday that it had sold off global rights to an IL-23 monoclonal antibody, sending the drug to Allergan in return for $250 million upfront and up to $1.27 billion in potential milestone payments.
- The drug, known as MEDI2070, is currently in Phase 2b testing for moderate-to-severe Crohn's disease and has completed early-stage study in ulcerative colitis. AstraZeneca developed the drug under a collaboration deal with Amgen and will pass on one-third of all payments it receives from Allergan to Amgen.
- Faced with flagging revenue from aging mainstay drugs such as Crestor, AstraZeneca has been aggressive in out-licensing assets outside of its core therapeutic areas, aiming to raise revenue in the short term as a bridge to higher future earnings from new drugs.
Under CEO Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca has made a late push to grow its oncology portfolio, pinning much of its hopes on the potential of its immuno-oncology drug durvalumab.
The stepped-up focus on oncology has taken on more importance as sales have fallen in recent quarters.The British pharma anticipates a low to mid single-digit percentage decline in annual revenue this year, mostly due to generic competition for its blockbuster statin Crestor.
While AstraZeneca has begun to see promising commercial returns from its newest cancer drug Tagrisso, major new revenue in oncology is still an unrealized potential. In the interim, the company has shed rights to a number of non-core drugs to boost short-term revenues.
Over the summer, AstraZeneca out-licensed rights to two dermatology drugs to Leo Pharma.That deal followed two separate agreements licensing the gout drug Zurampic to Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and Germany-based Grunenthal.
Then, in late August, Pfizer bought AstraZeneca's anti-infective portfolio for $550 million upfront, with potential milestones stretching total deal value as high as $1.6 billion.
Due to the collaboration deal with Amgen for MEDI2070, AstraZeneca will retain only $167 million of the upfront payment from Allergan (and up to $847 million of the milestones) in this most recent deal.
From Allergan's perspective, the Irish drugmaker gets a Il-23 monoclonal antibody that fits neatly into its gastroenterology pipeline. David Nicholson, head of R&D at Allergan, indicated the specificity of the compound — targeting only IL-23 — could translate into wider applicability and higher efficacy than drugs targeting both IL-12 and IL-23.
Johnson & Johnson's Stelara, an IL12/IL23 targeting therapy, is a leader in the drug class, pulling in $804 million in worldwide sales in the second quarter. In the U.S., Stelara has been approved in psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis for several years, but only recently won approval in moderate-to-severe Crohn's disease.
Boehringer Ingelheim is also developing an IL-23 specific monoclonal antibody across a range of inflammatory conditions, with programs in psoriasis and psoriatric arthritis the most advanced. And late last week, J&J's subsidiary Janssen announced positive results from the first of three Phase 3 studies of guselkumab, another IL-23 mAb.