Novartis heats up HCV hype
The hepatitis C space has seen a string of large deals in the last weeks that include a US$11bn buyout of Pharmasset by Gilead. Now Novartis is also trying to get in the game with the purchase of a global exclusive licence from Enanta Pharmaceutical Inc. Under the terms of the agreement, Enanta will advance its preclinical lead candidate NS5A into clinical trials. The firm will receive an upfront payment of US$34m and milestones that could total up to US$406m if the drug reaches full commercialisation, as well as double-digit royalties on global sales. The picomolar NS5A blocker follows BristolMyers-Squibb’s Phase I first-in-class molecule BMS790052, which seems to address a patient group that is complementary to that of the current standard of care (SOC, Peg-interferon plus ribavirin). According to experts, NS5A blockers cannot completely replace standard treatments as they are not able to fully eradicate the virus, resulting in rapid development of drug resistance. However, they seem to have the potential to broaden the patient group that can benefit from a combination therapy of NS5A blockers plus SOC. The current SOC clears most infections with HCV genotypes 2 and 3, but succeeds in less than 50% of the patients with genotype 1.