- Takeda on Tuesday said it has agreed to acquire an experimental autoimmune disease drug from Nimbus Therapeutics in one of the most valuable biotechnology licensing deals in recent years.
- The Japanese pharmaceutical company will pay Nimbus $4 billion upfront for rights to the medicine, which is in clinical testing for multiple autoimmune conditions. Takeda could hand over two $1 billion milestone payments as well if annual sales of Nimbus’ drug exceed $4 billion and then $5 billion.
- The drug targets an enzyme known as TYK2, which is involved in cell signaling pathways implicated in inflammation. Nimbus recently said it succeeded in a mid-stage trial in psoriasis, but didn’t disclose details. Takeda plans to start a Phase 3 study testing the drug in that disease next year, as well as explore its use in other immune disorders like inflammatory bowel disease.
Nimbus was co-founded by Atlas Venture and drug discovery firm Schrodinger in 2009 as a limited liability holding company. The decision, considered unusual then, has paid off multiple times.
The asset-centric structure became a popular tool among biotech venture investors after the 2008 financial crisis, and allows startups to more easily sell off drug programs and generate returns if initial public offerings are hard to pull off. In Nimbus’ case, the company aimed to use computing tools to find new drugs, sell them and reap the rewards.
Nimbus has now done so twice in recent years. In 2016, Gilead Sciences paid the company $400 million for a liver disease drug. Now, six years later and with IPOs tough to come by, it has secured $4 billion in guaranteed cash for its next project. The deal will keep the company well funded without having to tap public markets.
Called NDI-034858, Nimbus’ drug is one of many TYK2 inhibitors that startups and publicly traded biotechs are developing for a variety of immune-related diseases. The treatments are viewed as oral alternatives to injectable medicines like Humira. At least so far, they haven’t been associated with the safety risks of another class of inflammatory disease pills known as JAK inhibitors.
In September, Bristol Myers Squibb brought the first TYK2 inhibitor to market, winning Food and Drug Administration approval of a drug called Sotyktu for psoriasis. Nimbus is one of several companies — among them Ventyx Biosciences, Alumis and Sudo Biosciences — that thinks it can top Sotyktu.
Nimbus executives claim their drug is more selective than Bristol Myers’ pill, but that hasn’t yet been proven in clinical testing. Takeda plans to present the results from Nimbus’ psoriasis study at a medical meeting early next year.
“After having seen the NDI-034858 Phase 2b data ... we are excited by the differentiation of this molecule within the TYK2 class, and we believe in its broad potential for people with autoimmune diseases,” said Takeda R&D chief Andy Plump, in a statement. Takeda envisions the drug as a complement to its inflammatory bowel disease medicine Entyvio, and will continue running an ongoing mid-stage trial in psoriatic arthritis as well.
In doing so, Takeda is making one of the largest upfront payments in recent industry history for rights to a single drug. The $4 billion figure is more than double what Bristol Myers, Merck & Co. and AstraZeneca paid in large cancer drug deals over the past few years. It also dwarfs the $700 million GSK paid to Alector last year to develop two neurodegenerative disease drugs.
Nimbus, meanwhile, still has another in-house drug in clinical testing, a cancer medicine targeting an enzyme called HPK1.