- Roche's Genentech has acquired a young biotech in a bid to develop new therapies for an increasingly popular disease target among drugmakers.
- NASH, or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, is a fatty liver condition that affects tens of millions of Americans, according to National Institutes of Health estimates. With no Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments for NASH, Wall Street predicts a multi-billion dollar opportunity for the first company that brings an effective therapy to market.
- Founded in 2015, San Diego-based Jecure Therapeutics has been working to fill the void with drugs that inhibit an immune system-regulating gene called NLRP3. Through a deal announced Tuesday, Genentech now holds full rights to Jecure's portfolio of preclinical NLRP3 assets, with the intention of testing them in inflammatory diseases. The companies did not disclose financial terms of the deal.
NASH's immense market opportunity has spurred some big pharma dealmaking over the past several years.
Just last month, Novartis and Pfizer said they'd be teaming up to investigate whether pairing the Swiss company's FXR agonist tropifexor — which is already in a Phase 2 NASH study — with some of Pfizer's experimental compounds would create a more effective therapy.
And in 2017, Novartis inked similar, separate deals with Allergan and Conatus Pharmaceuticals.
Roche, meanwhile, hasn't been active on the NASH front. The bulk of its pipeline centers on oncology, immunology, infectious disease and neuroscience.
The Jecure acquisition gives Roche an entry to the space, though it remains far behind rivals like Gilead Sciences, GenFit and Intercept Pharmaceuticals. Yet with late-stage data on those companies' candidates coming out next year, Roche may have gotten onboard the NASH train right before it starts to really accelerate.
The deal also speaks to the larger challenges facing Roche. With its top three best-sellers under competitive threats from biosimilars, Roche has been investing across a variety of drug development landscapes in search of potential blockbusters that can help offset the anticipated declines. This year alone the company inked deals focused on a T cell-regulating antibody, soil microbiome therapeutics and an antisense drug targeting geographic atrophy.
Roche is looking to meld its discovery and development capabilities and know-how regarding NLRP3 biology with Jecure's portfolio, according to James Sabry, global head of Roche's pharma partnering.
"We’ve had a long-standing interest in targeting inflammatory pathways that may play a role in a number of serious diseases," Sabry said in a Nov. 27 statement.