- Novartis will license out global rights to two of its cancer drugs to Laekna Therapeutics, a small biotech company based in Shanghai, Laekna said in a statement Wednesday.
- The two drugs involved in the deal, afuresertib and uprosertib, are oral pan-Akt kinase inhibitors originally developed by GlaxoSmithKline. Novartis acquired them in a massive 2014 asset swap with the British drugmaker that upped its footprint in oncology.
- While financials of the deal were not disclosed, Novartis will receive equity in Laekna and upfront and development milestone payments, as well as royalties on future sales of the two drugs.
The Chinese pharma market continues to grow and grow fast, especially through collaborative projects with the biggest drug companies in the world.
For Laekna, this is its second agreement with Novartis. They reached their first deal last year, when Laekna acquired the global rights to a CYP17 inhibitor (CFG920) used to treat prostate cancer. In this new deal, the company gains exclusive rights to develop and commercialize two clinical-stage oncology assets.
The deal fits with the larger trend of big pharma divesting non-core assets in a push to focus more narrowly on core therapeutic areas. AstraZeneca, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline have all been particularly active in recent years. Novartis is doing much of the same, both in smaller deals like this one and its more sweeping plans to spin out its Alcon eye care business into a standalone device company. While Novartis considers oncology one of its key growth areas, the company has recently chosen to focus more on the immuno-oncology space and cell therapies in hopes of gaining an edge, while also advancing some targeted oncology therapies.
Both drugs sent to Laekna are mid-stage, although results from listed Phase 2 trials aren't readily available.
For afuresertib, several clinical trials are ongoing or planned in multiple myeloma and gastric cancer, according to Novartis' drug pipeline. A Phase 1 trial is listed as active but not recruiting on the federal database clinicaltrials.gov for the drug's use in hematological malignancies.
The National Cancer Institute has sponsored all three of uprosertib's clinical trials posted on clinicaltrials.gov. While one Phase 2 trial focused on melanoma concluded earlier this year, results have not been released.
Perhaps optimistically, Laekna says it has "mapped out" registration pathways to bring the drugs toward New Drug Applications, but the company did not elaborate.