Novartis bets $1.6B on a biotech's anti-inflammatory drugs
- Through a deal announced Monday, Novartis could spend almost $1.6 billion on a small collection of experimental anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Deal terms hold that the Swiss pharma giant will hand over $310 million upfront to acquire a subsidiary of Boston-based IFM Therapeutics. The subsidiary sports a pipeline of three drugs that inhibit a protein involved in immune system regulation. One of the drugs, named IFM-2427, just entered a Phase 1 study, while the other two are still in preclinical testing.
- In addition to its upfront payment, Novartis put close to $1.3 billion worth of milestones on the line. IFM said its board of directors and shareholders have approved the transaction, which the companies now expect to close in the second quarter.
Novartis' immunology business has largely focused on interleukins, a broad class of proteins that play various roles in the body's immune response.
So far, the strategy has paid off well. The company last year recorded $3.4 billion in combined net sales from Ilaris (canakinumab) and Cosentyx (secukinumab), monoclonal antibodies that target two different interleukin pathways. The Cosentyx franchise has been especially lucrative, growing more than 130% since 2016 and becoming Novartis' best product launch to date.
The big pharma is getting a dose of diversification, however, with its new purchase of IFM Tre.
The subsidiary's pipeline is built around NLRP3 — a protein IFM Therapeutics views as a worthwhile target for preventing overactive inflammation. IFM-2427, for instance, may have potential use in "an array of chronic inflammatory disorders" such as atherosclerosis and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, according to the parent company.
Notably, Novartis is already developing a few potential therapies for NASH and has tested canakinumab as a treatment for atherosclerotic disease.
"IFM's programs complement the existing Novartis pipeline of anti-inflammatory medicines, and build off of the strong clinical validation around the role of IL-1 signaling in a broad range of inflammatory disorders established by the CANTOS trial, among others," wrote Atlas Venture partner Bruce Booth in a Monday blog post. Atlas Venture is one of the co-founders of IFM.
The Phase 1 trial is evaluating IFM-2427 in healthy patients and recently began dosing.
Novartis' acquisition also gives it two preclinical programs: a gut-targeted NLRP3 antagonist for inflammatory bowel disease, and a central nervous system NRLP3 antagonist for neurological diseases. IFM Therapeutics said last summer the latter of those programs would target Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative or neuroinflammatory disorders.
"IFM Tre’s compounds have demonstrated that they can fine-tune the immune system, offering a potentially potent approach for treating a large variety of diseases associated with inflammation," said Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, in a statement.
Founded in 2015, IFM Therapeutics advances medicines for the innate immune system, which is responsible for defending the body against more general threats like bacteria. In 2017, Bristol-Myers Squibb acquired the biotech's preclinical programs focused on enhancing the innate immune response for treating cancer.
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