Novartis is partnering with biotechnology company Bicycle Therapeutics in its push to develop radiopharmaceutical drugs for cancer.
The collaboration, announced by Bicycle Tuesday, will be built upon the smaller company’s eponymous drugmaking technology. Novartis will pay Bicycle $50 million upfront and, should the companies’ work progress successfully, has promised up to $1.7 billion in additional payments based on the achievement of development and commercial milestones.
Named after the company, Bicycle’s principal technology is a way to make drugs that consist of short amino acid chains bent into loops around a chemical “scaffold.” The biotech claims this approach can offer the advantages of both small molecule and antibody drugs.
With this deal, Novartis aims to use these “bicycles” as the basis of a new type of radiopharmaceutical, which typically consist of a radioactive isotope paired to a targeting component by a linking molecule.
While being costly and difficult to make, radiopharmaceuticals are appealing as a way to more selectively direct radiation to tumor cells while sparing healthy tissue.
Novartis, in particular, has shown significant interest in the field under CEO Vas Narasimhan. The Swiss pharma currently sells two radiopharmaceuticals: Pluvicto and Lutathera. The former was approved last March for patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, while the latter won FDA clearance in 2018 for certain tumors found in the pancreas or gastrointestinal tract.
The two drugs earned Novartis more than $700 million last year, and Pluvicto sales are forecast to eventually reach more than $2 billion a year. However, Novartis has struggled to keep up with demand and plans to open up a new manufacturing facility in New Jersey to ease supply shortages.
For Bicycle, the deal offers fresh validation of its technology, and a new direction to explore. "[Novartis] is a leader in radiopharmaceuticals with two approved therapies ... and we believe it is notable that [Novartis] is leveraging the Bicycle platform for development of next-generation programs,” SVB Securities analyst Jonathan Chang wrote in a client note.
Bicycle’s platform has drawn the interest of other large drugmakers, including Roche and AstraZeneca, for use in other applications.