Enanta Enters HepC Big Leagues, With $34M Upfront From Novartis

2/21/12Follow @xconomy

Watertown, MA-based Enanta Pharmaceuticals just took a step ahead in the hepatitis C drug development derby.

Enanta said today it has secured an exclusive deal with Novartis to co-develop an experimental hepatitis C drug, dubbed EDP-239, that’s designed to work by blocking a protein called NS5A. The deal provides Enanta with $34 million in upfront cash, another $440 million in milestone payments if the drug reaches certain goals, plus royalties on a double-digit percentage of worldwide product sales. Enanta has also retained the right to co-market the drug in the U.S. The product was recently cleared by regulators to start human clinical trials.

The alliance is just the latest in a feverish string of deals in the hepatitis C field. Within the past few months, Gilead Sciences made an $11 billion acquisition of Pharmasset, and Bristol-Myers Squibb acquired Inhibitex for $2.5 billion to obtain hepatitis C antiviral drugs from a class known as nucleotide polymerase inhibitors. Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Merck are attacking the virus with protease inhibitors that were approved by the FDA last year. Others, including Vertex and Roche, are testing another class of drugs known as non-nucleotide polymerase inhibitors—all in an effort to create a cocktail to stop the fast-mutating virus that causes chronic liver damage.

NS5A is a protein that scientists say plays a critical role in hepatitis C viral replication, and the body’s ability to respond to traditional interferon therapy. The class has a few other well-known rivals in development, from Bristol-Myers, Cambridge, MA-based Idenix Pharmaceuticals, and San Francisco-based Presidio Pharmaceuticals.

“We believe EDP-239 has great potential as a potent ingredient in combination drug therapy, and our preclinical studies have demonstrated high potency against multiple genotypes of the virus, excellent safety profile and a preclinical pharmacokinetic profile amenable to once-a-day dosing in humans,” said Jay Luly, Enanta’s CEO, in a statement.

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