- Novartis is in-licensing a dry eye drug from bite-sized biotech Lubris that could help nurse the company's ailing Alcon business back to health.
- The Swiss drugmaker didn't disclose much information, including financial details, about the deal in a Thursday statement. However, a source knowledgeable of the transaction said upfront and milestone payments could total more than $1 billion, the Boston Business Journal reported.
- The deal hands Novartis ex-Europe rights to ECF843, a recombinant form of a protein called lubricin. As its name suggest, the protein acts as a lubricant in areas of the body that experience frequent or severe friction, such as around muscles and joints.
Alcon, Novartis' eye care business, hasn't been doing so hot. That may be hard to believe considering it raked in $5.8 billion in net sales last year, but that figure represents a 3% decline from 2015 and just 12% of total net sales. The company has also moved ophthalmology products from the unit to its Innovative Medicines division, and in January announced it was conducting a strategic review of Alcon, assessing whether to keep the business or perhaps spin it off.
However, if Novartis is willing to line up $1 billion on a candidate that has only made it through mid-stage testing in a small number of patients outside the U.S., it must still have some faith in the eye care business. And with few approved treatments for dry eye, which affects about 5 million people aged 50 or older in the U.S. alone, and some estimates valuing the global ophthalmology market at $26 billion by 2022, continuing to bet on the eye market might not be so wild.
A Phase 2 study of ECF843 in 40 patients with moderate dry eye completed in September 2015. Results showed the drug had significantly positive effects on symptoms of the condition compared to sodium hyaluronate eye drops.
Additionally, ECF843 is also under pre-clinical investigation as a treatment for dry mouth, osteoarthiritis and surgical adhesions.
"ECF843 has the potential to be the first therapeutic to provide rapid relief of dry eye symptoms and significantly improve signs," Novartis' Chief Medical Officer Vas Narasimhan said in an April 6 statement.
Novartis declined to give additional details about the deal, and Lubris did not return request for comment.