Thursday, April 19, 2007

Antisoma Licenses AS1404: The Sequel

Only occasionally are sequels better than the original. The Godfather Part II. The Empire Strikes Back, of course. Add to those classics UK biotech Antisoma's second go-around with its vascular disrupting agent AS1404, which today it partnered with Novartis in a world-wide deal worth up to $890 million (including $100 million in near-term payments) plus royalties. Novartis will conduct and fund all development in all indications going forward.

Only ten months ago Roche returned rights to 1404 to Antisoma, on the same day Antisoma reported positive Phase II proof of concept results in lung cancer. Since then the biotech has issued a steady stream of positive news surrounding the product and hinted at serious interest from would-be pharmaceutical partners.

The original Roche deal was broad, encompassing Antisoma's entire clinical pipeline, including the Phase III ovarian cancer candidate pemtumomab, and a raft of Phase I compounds including 1404 (then known as DMXAA, and recently acquired by Antisoma from the non-profit Cancer Research Campaign for about $1 million). That deal included cost-sharing provisions for clinical trials of 1404 and other compounds but where Antisoma stood to gain the most was when drugs entered Phase III. Roche, citing commercial considerations, pulled the plug and returned all rights to Antisoma in June 2006.

At the time, noted Antisoma CEO Glyn Edwards today on a call to announce the Novartis deal, there was little clinical data available on 1404. "We were just starting to see survival data in the lung at that time," he says. There is a lot more clinical data available now, and Roche's decision was only partly related to 14o4 itself, says Edwards. The pharma's own portfolio was taken into consideration, and "Roche made the right decision for Roche just as Novartis has made the right decision for Novartis."

Roche it turns out also made the right decision for Antisoma. The Novartis deal is much more lucrative than anything Antisoma would have received from Roche, reflecting both the drug's clinical success to-date and the realities of biotech-pharma partnering today. Novartis will pay $75 million up front and $380 million in developmental milestones spread over four oncology indications and one non-oncology indication; future sales milestones could reach $325 million. Not least Antisoma has retained the right to co-promote the product in the US, a privilege Novartis will partially fund.

"Any Antisoma reps will have the ability to co-detail other Antisoma products" in the future, says Edwards, which "gives us a lower-cost, lower-risk entry into the US oncology market." It also means that in addition to adding early-stage assets via the biotech's business development efforts, Antisoma can also look to bring in mid-stage oncology candidates with an eye toward marketing niche products in the US, he says.

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