Novartis’s Dealmaking Spree Continues with Calypso Buyout, Shanghai Argo RNAi Collab

Pictured: Novartis' head office in Canada/iStock,

Pictured: Novartis’ head office in Canada/iStock,

JHVEPhoto/Getty Images

A day after inking an AI deal with Alphabet’s Isomorphic Labs, Novartis is back at it, acquiring Calypso Biotech and tying up with Shanghai Argo in two RNA-i-focused pacts.

Pictured: Novartis’ building in Canada/iStock, JHVEPhoto

Novartis inked three different agreements on Monday, including the acquisition of Dutch company Calypso Biotech and a pair of RNAi-focused research partnerships with Chinese biotech Shanghai Argo Biopharmaceutical.

These deals come as the industry officially kicks off its year at the 42nd annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, held in San Francisco and widely regarded to be the opening salvo for what is shaping up to be a dynamic year for biopharma.

As per the terms of the Calypso acquisition, Novartis will make an upfront payment of $250 million once the deal is closed. The pharma will also put an additional $175 million on the line, contingent on the achievement of certain pre-determined development milestones.

Calypso, which spun out of Merck Serono in March 2013, develops monoclonal antibodies against various immune diseases. Its lead program is CALY-002, a potentially best-in-class asset that targets the IL-15 cytokine, which plays a role in various immune cascades, such as the activation and modulation of T, B, natural killer and resident memory T cells.

According to Calypso’s website, CALY-002 could become a “paradigm-changing treatment” for various gastrointestinal conditions that have no currently approved treatments. The biotech is trialing CALY-002 for celiac disease and eosinophilic esophagitis. Novartis will continue these development programs for CALY-002 and will “further explore” its potential in other auto-immune diseases, according to a press release issued by Calypso.

“As part of the Novartis portfolio, CALY-002 is in the best position to be developed effectively, so that it can promptly address unmet medical needs in multiple indications,” Calypso CEO and co-founder Alain Vicari said in a statement.

Meanwhile, with Shanghai-based biotech Argo, Novartis inked exclusive license and collaboration agreements for two early-stage RNA interference candidates targeting cardiovascular diseases.

The first agreement will grant Novartis the exclusive global right to develop and commercialize a Phase I cardiovascular disease program, as well as the option to add up to two more targets. Meanwhile, the second contract gives Novartis the exclusive license to develop and commercialize a Phase I/IIa clinical-stage program, likewise for a cardiovascular indication, outside the Greater China region.

Taken together, the two agreements could mean up to $4.165 billion for Argo, plus tiered royalties, though the companies have not yet revealed a specific breakdown of these payments.

The Calypso and Argo transactions come one day after Novartis entered into an AI partnership with Alphabet’s Isomorphic, paying $37.5 million upfront to leverage the biotech’s AI-powered platform for three yet-undisclosed targets.

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. He can be reached at or

Tristan is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, with more than eight years of experience writing about medicine, biotech and science. He can be reached at, or on LinkedIn.