- With competition threatening its hemophilia business, Novo Nordisk A/S is branching out into other blood disorders. On Thursday, it put $400 million on the line to license a young biotech's novel medicine for sickle cell disease.
- EpiDestiny Inc.'s EPI01 combines a chemotherapy drug with a compound that has anti-tumor properties. While that composition may seem more appropriate as a cancer treatment, early clinical studies showed the drug raises levels of fetal hemoglobin, which in turn can increase red blood cell half-life and a patient's life expectancy. It is those benefits Novo is looking to explore deeper.
- The Danish drugmaker now holds an exclusive license for EPI01's sickle cell program, and also plans on evaluating the drug for beta-thalassaemia. EpiDestiny maintains rights to the drug in oncology, however.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Jesper Brandgaard.
Novo's core business relies on two increasingly challenging therapeutic areas.
One, diabetes, is saturated with products. A resulting pricing war has taken its toll on revenues for many mainstay insulins — and become a particularly damaging trend for Novo, which gets about 80% of its pharmaceutical sales from diabetes drugs. Last year, the company saw sales of Levemir (insulin detemir) and NovoMix dip 17% and 2%, respectively.
The other area, hemophilia, is being shaken by newer, longer-acting therapies.
Roche AG's Hemlibra (emicizumab) is the biggest near-term threat, with Novo expecting 50% of its NovoSeven franchise (coagulation factor VIIa [recombinant]) to become exposed by 2022 because of the Swiss pharma's treatment. While Novo has filed a longer-acting factor VIII therapy with U.S. and European regulators, it will have a hard time contending with Hemlibra's once-weekly dosing regimen.
Against those barriers, Novo has been looking to spruce up its pipeline. It put $3 billion on the table for Belgian biotech Ablynx NV in January, but was ultimately outbid by rival Sanofi SA. The acquisition would have given Novo a slew of clinical-stage nanobody drugs, most notably a candidate called caplacizumab, which is under investigation in patients with acquired thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.
That came less than a year after Reuters reported that Novo was interested in buying Global Blood Therapeutics Inc. Novo's Chief Financial Officer Jesper Brandgaard later denied the speculation, chalking it up to a market rumor.
But the Ablynx attempt and EpiDestiny licensing deal seem to underscore Novo's focus on hematology. Company leadership has also hinted there's more to come in that regard.
"We are currently active on a couple of initiatives that hopefully will succeed and enable us to bolt activities on to our biopharma franchise in 2018,” Brandgaard told Reuters.
EPI01 is in Phase 1/2 testing, and EpiDestiny expects to push the drug into Phase 3 before 2018 closes out.