Novo Nordisk Pays $70M for Phase 1-Ready Cardiometabolic Disorder Drug - MedCity News

Novo Nordisk’s effort to diversify beyond diabetes has made it an active marketer, and its latest move brings a Phase 1-ready program with potential applications in a number of cardiometabolic disorders.

The drug candidate comes from startup company Ventus Therapeutics. Under the terms of the deal announced Thursday, Novo Nordisk is paying $70 million up front for the small molecule that targets a protein called NLRP3. Denmark-based Novo Nordisk has been awarded global rights to develop and commercialize the drug in multiple diseases, including fatty liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and chronic kidney disease, among others. Depending on the progress of this research, Ventus could receive up to $633 million in milestone payments.

“NLRP3 is a biologically relevant target with significant potential in a range of liver, kidney and cardiometabolic diseases,” Karin Conde-Knappe, senior vice president of Global Drug Discovery at Novo Nordisk, said in a statement. “Ventus has developed a highly differentiated NLRP3 inhibitor program with best-in-class properties and compelling preclinical results.”

Ventus, which splits its operations between Waltham, Mass., and Montreal, discovers its drugs using computational analysis to understand the structure of proteins and find ways to hit targets thought to be untreatable. The biotech’s NLRP3-blocking drugs are designed to stop the formation of NLRP3 inflammasomes, protein complexes that regulate the immune system and are involved in the intracellular signaling that triggers inflammatory responses. Inflammation caused by abnormal activation of this protein complex is associated with multiple conditions.

Although Novo Nordisk’s portfolio is heavily focused on diabetes, this is changing. Earlier this month, Novo Nordisk has reached a $1.1 billion deal to buy Forma Therapeutics, a company whose lead drug candidate, etavopivat, is in phase 2/3 testing in sickle cell disease. This deal followed last year’s Acquisition of Dicerna Therapeutics for $3.3 billion, a developer of therapies based on an approach called RNA interference. The two companies have already been partners in the development of RNAi drugs for NASH, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

When Ventus closed its $100 million Series B funding last year, president and CEO Marcelo Bigal told MedCity News that his company is exploring partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies. At the time, he said he did not want to participate in his company’s internal programs. But the deal with Novo Nordisk puts its flagship NLRP3 program in the hands of a global company with the resources to develop it for multiple diseases. It also puts Novo Nordisk in competition with others developing drugs that block NLRP3. Roche entered the space through his 2018 acquisition of Jecure Therapeutics. In 2019, Novartis paid $310 million upfront to acquire IFM Tre, a subsidiary of IFM Therapeutics, which is developing an NLRP3 inhibitor for NASH. Meanwhile, Ventyx Biosciences is preparing to begin clinical trials of NLRP3 inhibitor for neurodegenerative diseases.

Ventus raised $140 million in Series C funding earlier this year as it prepared to move its lead programs, including the partner NLRP3 inhibitor, into the clinic. The company also has other NLRP3 programs. The deal with Novo Nordisk allows Ventus to retain rights to its NLRP3 inhibitors in development for certain other inflammatory and respiratory diseases. The biotech also retains rights to its NLRP3 brain penetration program, which is in development to address neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.

Photo: Jean-Francois Monier/AFP, via Getty Images

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