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Array Lands $31M in Licensing Deal with Japan’s Ono Pharma

Xconomy Boulder/Denver — 

Array BioPharma has agreed to license some rights to two of its clinical-stage cancer drugs to Ono Pharmaceutical, a deal that pays the Boulder, CO, biotech $31.6 million now and potentially more if those drugs hit key milestones.

Ono, based in Osaka, Japan, gains development and commercialization rights in Japan and South Korea for binimetinib, a skin cancer drug, and encorafenib, a colorectal cancer drug. Under the agreement, Array (NASDAQ: ARRY) will keep rights to commercialize both drugs in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. If Ono succeeds in commercializing those drugs in its territory, it could pay Array up to $156 million more in payments pegged to development and regulatory benchmarks. The Japanese pharma would also be responsible for paying Array royalties from drug sales.

Binimetinib, a pill, is part of a class of drugs called MEK inhibitors. These drugs block a protein called MEK that plays a role in the signaling pathways that drive growth in some cancers. Array entered a 2010 collaboration with Novartis (NYSE: NVS) to jointly develop the drug as a treatment for melanoma and ovarian cancer. In 2014, the pharma giant ended the deal and returned rights to the drug to its Colorado partner.

Array also collaborated with Novartis on encorafenib, a BRAF inhibitor. The pill blocks the BRAF protein, which can promote cancer growth. In 2015, Array reacquired worldwide rights to that drug, which the two companies had been testing as a potential treatment for melanoma and colorectal cancer.

Array is testing combinations of both binimetinib and encorafenib in two separate Phase 3 clinical trials. One trial is testing the two drugs as a treatment for melanoma in patients who have the BRAF mutation. A separate trial is testing the two drugs in combination with Eli Lilly’s (NYSE: LLY) cetuximab (Erbitux) as a treatment for colorectal cancer.

The Ono deal is the second licensing pact that Array has reached for binimetinib and encorafenib since reacquiring full rights to both drugs. In 2015, Array entered a partnership with French pharma company Pierre Fabre. That deal paid Array $30 million up front and committed up to $425 million in milestone payments in exchange for the rights to commercialize those drugs in Europe and most of the rest of the world. The companies also agreed to split development expenses for the drugs, with Pierre Fabre shouldering 40 percent of those costs.

Metastatic melanoma cells image by the National Cancer Institute.