Novartis Inks Deal with Molecular Partners for a Novel Way to Take Down COVID-19
By T. Chakraborty, Ph.D.
Pharma giant Novartis is spending $69 million upfront to acquire two experimental drugs (MP0420 and MP0423) from Molecular Partners (MP) for combatting COVID-19. The drugs which fall under the proprietary DARPin therapeutics can be produced for mass consumption and include multiple target binding sites to prevent viral escape via mutations, the possibility for subcutaneous administration, and a long half-life for sustained activity.
The agreement in the future could translate into an extra $165 million if Novartis procures both drugs based on the results from trials. However, MP will have to let go of royalties to help alleviate costs in low-income countries.
Apart from the collaboration with AveXis for developing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate, this is the first major step taken by Novartis in this pandemic to bring a drug to the market. Although this deal might have the potential to deliver relief to millions affected by a coronavirus, both the medicines are in their early stages, with no trials conducted yet. Among the two drugs, MP0420 has progressed the furthest along with a scheduled Phase 1 trial being conducted by MP in November.
The company also intends to work on the remaining preclinical stages for MP0423, after which it will be handing over the reins to Novartis who will be responsible for conducting Phases 2 and 3. If all goes well and Novartis ends up acquiring the license, it would be then responsible for all future sales and developments. Both companies will further set up manufacturing capacity to scale up production.
Patrick Amstutz, Chief Executive Officer of Molecular Partners, said, “Our team rapidly mobilized to deliver a unique DARPin-based technology to address the overwhelming need for effective therapeutics against COVID-19. As a class, DARPins have demonstrated over the years of clinical research a number of characteristics that enhance their profile as antiviral therapeutics for a global pandemic. We have built on this long-term research with these two candidates, which have demonstrated extremely potent neutralization of the virus through inhibiting multiple viral mechanisms. We are thrilled to partner with Novartis, who has shown great commitment to combating this pandemic and bringing innovative solutions to people around the world”.
About Molecular Partners
MP is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company located in Zurich, Switzerland. MP has already inked deals with many big pharmaceutical companies, including Amgen and AbbVie/Allergan. Although the deal with AbbVie ended on a sour note as their partnered eye drug, Abicipar pegol, which also used DARPin tech, was hit over safety issues from regulatory bodies. The company managed to sign a major $1 billion deal with Roche for cancer drugs. However, Roche pulled out of the deal in 2015.
With several big and small biopharma companies, including Atea Pharmaceuticals, CalciMedica racing to get a drug for COVID-19, it remains to be seen how Novartis plans to navigate through this and acquire market shares.
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