Incyte Inks $750M Deal to Buy Escient and Skin Disease Drug Candidates

Incyte_iStock, Bo Shen

Pictured: Incyte building in Wilmington, Delaware/iStock, Bo Shen

Incyte announced Tuesday that it is buying Escient Pharmaceuticals for $750 million to gain control of a pipeline led by clinical-phase treatments of atopic dermatitis and other skin conditions.

Escient’s lead asset is an antagonist of Mas-related G protein-coupled receptor X2 (MRGPRX2), a receptor that is expressed on mast cells. Because the receptor mediates the activation of mast cells and their response to wounding, Escient identified the target as the method for improving outcomes in the skin conditions atopic dermatitis, chronic inducible urticaria and chronic spontaneous urticaria. The small molecule, EP262, is in Phase Ib/II trials in those three conditions and clinical proof-of-concept data are due early in 2025.

Incyte is buying Escient after seeing the results of preclinical studies that showed EP262 improves atopic dermatitis-like skin lesions and markers of Type II inflammation, plus data from a Phase I clinical trial in healthy volunteers. No subjects had serious or severe adverse events, side effects that forced them to stop taking the molecule or clinically meaningful adverse changes in various parameters.

Escient is also developing a MRGPRX4 antagonist in cholestatic pruritus and uremic pruritus, the medical names for itching caused by liver and kidney disease. MRGPRX4 is found on neurons that are implicated in itch and are activated by molecules that accumulate in patients with liver and kidney disease. Escient identified the receptor as the way to treat forms of itching in which antihistamines and other drugs are ineffective. Clinical proof-of-concept data on EP547 in cholestatic pruritus are due early in 2025.

If the Phase II trials of EP262 and EP547 are successful, Incyte plans to start pivotal trials of the assets in a range of indications between 2025 and 2027. The studies could lead to a series of approvals around the end of the decade.

“With this acquisition, we will be able to leverage our existing development and commercial capabilities. In addition, these programs offer a large potential commercial opportunity across multiple indications,” Incyte CEO Hervé Hoppenot said on a Tuesday call with investors to discuss the deal. “The two lead assets ... address large populations with a clear medical need and a multibillion-dollar total market opportunity.”

The buyout is expected to close by the third quarter of 2024. 

The timing of the anticipated potential approvals means EP262 and EP547 are scheduled to start adding to sales at Incyte after patents on its key drug Jakafi (ruxolitinib) expire in 2028. Hoppenot said the company is still looking to bring in other assets and the Escient buyout will not prevent Incyte from “doing additional and larger acquisitions in the future.”

Nick Paul Taylor is a freelance pharmaceutical and biotech writer based in London. He can be reached on LinkedIn.

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