4 New Life Sciences Licensing Deals and Investments to Watch

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Today marked some wheeling and dealing in the life sciences industry as several companies licensed products or invested in other companies. Here’s a look.

Eli Lilly and Asahi Kasei Pharma Eli Lilly and Company inked a license agreement with Tokyo’s Asahi Kasei Pharma Corporation. In it, Lilly picks up exclusive rights to AK1780 from Asahi. The drug is an oral P2X7 receptor antagonist that recently finished a Phase I dosing study. P2X7 receptors are associated with neuroinflammation that drives chronic pain conditions.

Under the terms of the deal, Lilly will handle future global development and regulatory activities. Lilly is paying Asahi Kasei Pharma $20 million up front and the Japanese company is eligible for up to $210 million in development and regulatory milestones. Asahi Kasei will retain the rights to promote the drug in Japan and China, including Hong Kong and Macau. If it makes it to market, Asahi Kesei will also be eligible for up to $180 million in sales milestones and tiered royalties from the mid-single to low-double digits.

“Lilly is committed to developing novel medicines that may provide relief for patients suffering with various pain conditions,” said Mark Mintun, vice president of pain and neurodegeneration research at Lilly. “We are pleased to license this molecule from Asahi Kasei Pharma, and look forward to developing it further as a potential treatment for neuroinflammatory pain conditions.”

Artiva Biotherapeutics and Merck – San Diego-based Artiva Biotherapeutics announced an exclusive global collaboration and license agreement with Merck to develop novel chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-NK cell therapies against solid tumor-associated antigens. They will leverage Artiva’s off-the-shelf allogeneic NK cell manufacturing platform and its proprietary CAR-NK technology. At first, the collaboration will include two CAR-NK programs with an option for a third. None of them are currently part of Artiva’s current or planned pipeline. Artiva will develop the programs through the first GMP manufacturing campaign and to preparation for the Investigational New Drug (IND) application, where Merck will take over clinical and commercial development.

Merck is paying Artiva $30 million upfront for the first two programs and another $15 million if Merck chooses to go ahead with the third. Artiva will be up for development and commercial milestones up to $612 million per program and royalties on global sales. Merck also is ponying up research funding for each program.

“Our NK platform has been developed to be truly off-the-shelf and we believe it will be further validated by this exclusive collaboration with Merck, as we work together to bring cell therapies to all patients who may benefit,” said Peter Flynn, chief operating officer of Artiva.

NeuBase Therapeutics and Vera Therapeutics – Pittsburgh-based NeuBase Therapeutics announced a binding agreement to acquire infrastructure, programs and intellectual property for several peptide-nucleic acid (PNA) scaffolds from Vera Therapeutics, formerly called TruCode Gene Repair. Vera is based in South San Francisco. On January 19, Vera announced its launch with a $80 million Series C financing led by Abingworth LLP and joined by Sofinnova Investments, Longitude Capital, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Surveyor Capital, Octagon Capital, Kliner Perkins, GV and Alexandria Venture Investments. Vera’s lead clinical candidate is atacicept, a novel B cell and plasma cell inhibitor being developed for patients with IgA nephropathy (IgAN).

The technology acquired by NeuBase has shown the ability to resolve disease in genetic models of several disease indications. NeuBase is focused on genetic medicine.

“With this acquisition, we enhance our PATrOL platform, furthering our unique ability to directly engage and correct malfunctioning genes with exquisite precision to address the root causes of a wide variety of human diseases,” said Dietrich A. Stephan, chief executive officer of NeuBase. “These assets extend and refine our PATrOL platform’s capabilities and accelerates, through our Company, to bring the rapidly growing genetic medicines industry toward a single high-impact focal point. We are committed to advancing our pipeline and candidates to the clinic and to exploiting the full potential of PNA technology to continue creating value for our shareholders and importantly, for patients.”

Bio-Techne Corporation and Changzhou Eminence Biotechnology Co – Minneapolis-based Bio-Techne Corporation announced an initial minority strategic equity investment in China’s Changzhou Eminence Biotechnology Co. Eminence plans to use the financing to expand its manufacturing capacity and increase the service capabilities of its China-based GMP media production facility. Eminence, based in Changzhou City, Jiangsu, China, launched in 2016 and initially focused on manufacturing and selling best-in-class media to life science companies, including Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells and other serum-free media products and services. The company is currently finishing and scaling its GMP production facility, which it plans to complete by the end of this year.

“With our protein analysis instruments and expanding GMP protein capabilities, Bio-Techne continues to expand its offering of products and tools critical for bioprocessing,” said Chuck Kumeth, president and chief executive officer of Bio-Techne. “Investing in Eminence not only gives Bio-Techne a foothold in providing additional products and services to support the critical needs of the rapidly growing Chinese biopharmaceutical industry, but also fits extremely well with our existing high-growth product portfolio in China. We look forward to working with the Eminence team.”

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