Novo Licenses to Almirall Potential First-in-Class Antibody Candidate

Novo Nordisk Building

Pictured: Novo Nordisk's corporate headquarters in Denmark/iStock, Ole Schwander

Spanish pharma Almirall announced Monday that it has licensed Novo Nordisk’s anti-IL-21 monoclonal antibody NN-8828, which it plans to develop as a treatment for immune inflammatory dermatological diseases and has first-in-class potential.

Almirall is looking to “accelerate the development” of NN-8828 with an eye towards eventually debuting the candidate on the global market for “key dermatological diseases,” according to Monday’s announcement.

Under the licensing agreement, Novo will receive an undisclosed upfront payment and will be entitled to developmental and commercial milestones, as well as tiered royalties on future global sales.

The licensing agreement will allow Almirall to “explore the innovative approach of IL-21 blockage as a possible new pathway to effectively treat a range of dermatological diseases,” CSO Karl Ziegelbauer said in a statement. The pharma, headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, is focused on medical dermatology.

NN-8828 is a monoclonal antibody that targets and binds the IL-21 cytokine with high affinity. IL-21 is a key player in the inflammatory cascade and has been implicated in various immune-based skin diseases, including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, pemphigus and Sjögren's syndrome.

By blocking IL-21 signaling, NN-8828 can potentially inhibit the underlying mechanisms of these diseases providing “a promising option for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune skin disorders,” according to Almirall.

Before punting the candidate over to Almirall, Novo had trialed NN-8828 up to Phase II in non-dermatological conditions. In January 2013, the Danish pharma announced that it was discontinuing the development of NN-8828 in rheumatoid arthritis after the candidate delivered a middling performance in a Phase IIa study.

NN-8828 met its primary endpoint of significantly lowering disease activity versus placebo but “the magnitude of the treatment effect did not warrant further development,” according to Novo.

The Danish drugmaker continued assessing NN-8828 in other inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and systemic lupus erythematosus, but ultimately exited the inflammation space entirely in September 2014.

Now part of Almirall’s holdings, NN-8828 joins a pipeline of promising dermatology therapies anchored by lebrikizumab, which is currently undergoing regulatory review in the European Union for the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Almirall licensed the European rights for lebrikizumab from Dermira in June 2019. Eli Lilly acquired Dermira in January 2020.

Also under review in the EU is Almirall’s efinaconazole, an investigational treatment for the fungal infection onychomycosis and sarecycline, meant to treat acne.

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. Reach out to him on LinkedIn or email him at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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