- GlaxoSmithKline will hand Dermavant Sciences rights to an experimental psoriasis drug that the British pharma once counted among its promising pipeline candidates, securing £150 million, or just under $200 million, in return from the Roivant subsidiary.
- Per deal terms, GSK could earn roughly another $130 million in a potential, unspecified milestone payment. Dermavant will also acquire rights to a preclinical drug program designed to serve as a "back-up" to the main target of the deal.
- The target drug in question, called tapinarof or GSK2894512, has completed two Phase 2 studies in psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, posting results the companies described as "clinically meaningful" in both. In December, however, GSK withdrew a planned Phase 3 trial, citing a need to prioritize resources internally.
Another company in the Roivant family is staking its future — or at least part of it — to a GSK cast-off.
Just like its sister company Axovant, which brought in the now-failed Alzheimer's candidate interpirdine from GSK, Dermavant will turn to the British pharma to firm up its pipeline.
Buying tapinarof is the first major deal for Dermavant since Jackie Fouse, formerly chief operating officer at Celgene, came on board last summer as executive chairman. With a path clear to Phase 3, tapinarof will take its spot at the top of Dermavant's list of experimental therapies in clinical testing — in a Thursday statement, Fouse even dubbed the drug the "cornerstone" of the company's pipeline.
It's also a candidate that Dermavant's leadership might be familiar with. In April, Dermavant appointed David Rubenstein as its new chief scientific officer. Rubenstein previously served as VP of discovery and preclinical for GSK's drug development efforts in dermatology.
At GSK, tapinarof was previously listed as a "prioritized asset" as recently as this past January despite the pharma having already withdrawn its Phase 3 study of the drug a month earlier, according to the federal database clinicaltrials.gov.
On the clinicaltrials.gov page, the reason for withdrawal was described as "a business decision based on the need to prioritise and focus resources within GSK."
"We have taken a strategic decision to divest or partner medicines in our R&D portfolio that are a better fit for other companies allowing us to concentrate our resources on other promising assets," said John Lepore, SVP of R&D pipeline at GSK, in a July 12 statement.
The British pharma is in the midst of revamping its pipeline as it redirects resources to its priority therapeutic areas of respiratory, HIV and oncology. Last summer, GSK culled 30 pipeline assets and, if the tapinarof out-licensing suggests anything, it still appears to be rejiggering drug development efforts.
In two mid-stage studies, tapinarof, a topical cream that modulates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, outperformed vehicle in clearing skin lesions in patients with plaque psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, respectively.
Dermavant will license the drug in all countries except China, where GSK had not held rights. The deal is expected to close in the second half of the year.