Biotechnology startup Ventus Therapeutics is licensing its lead research program, a drug candidate for inflammatory disorders, to Novo Nordisk in exchange for $70 million.
The experimental drug, dubbed VENT-01, is a small molecule that targets inflammasomes, which are protein complexes in immune system cells that activate inflammatory responses.
Though it was a difficult decision to part with Ventus’ lead program, company CEO Marcelo Bigal said the turbulent stock market contributed to the decision to partner with Novo.
“Without Novo, we were funded to bring three programs to the clinic, but with Novo we’re now funded to bring the programs into Phase 2, which means we’re funded into 2025,” Bigal said in an interview.
An inflammasome known as NLRP3 is the focus of Ventus' experimental treatment. NLRP3 is implicated in a wide range of diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Type 2 diabetes, intestinal cancer and fatty liver disorders.
Novo will develop VENT-01 for use in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, chronic kidney disease and other cardiometabolic disorders — areas in which the Danish drugmaker has experience developing medicines.
Under the agreement, Ventus retains the rights to its three other drug candidates, two of which target neuroinflammatory, neurodegenerative and skin diseases. The disease target for the third drug has not been disclosed.
The deal comes with a hefty string of “biobucks,” payments contingent on hitting certain research and development milestones. Ventus could receive up to $633 million more from Novo under those conditions.
Novo and Ventus started talking seriously about licensing the latter’s drugs after its $140 million Series C round in February, but conversations had begun even earlier.
“We have been flirting with Novo for a long time,” Bigal said.
Bigal has previously alluded to setting up his company for partnerships with larger pharmaceutical firms by exploring many different diseases. The deal with Novo is Ventus’ first since launching in 2020.
“Ventus has developed a highly differentiated NLRP3 inhibitor program with best-in-class properties and compelling pre-clinical results,” Karin Conde-Knape, Novo’s senior vice president of global drug discovery, said in a statement.
Drugging the inflammasome has been an area of interest for large companies for years. Roche purchased U.K.-based biotech Inflazome in 2020, two years after its buyout of Jecure Therapeutics. Novartis, Pfizer and publicly traded biotech Ventyx Biosciences have also gotten in on NLRP3 drug development. Startups NodThera and Olatec each have NLRP3 programs in clinical testing, too.
Ventus recently moved into a new 13,000-square-foot facility in Waltham, Mass. and maintains another research facility in Montreal.