New Nordisk announced a major purchase Thursday to boost its rare disease portfolio.
The Danish pharmaceutical giant is shelled $20 per share in cash to acquire a clinical-stage biotech Forma Therapeutics, which focuses on rare hematological diseases. The deal represents a total equity value of $1.1 billion, about $425 million more than Forma’s current market capitalization. The deal is expected to close before the end of the year.
Forma made its market debut in 2020 with a $278 million initial public offering. The Massachusetts-based company’s lead drug candidate is etavopivate, a once-daily selective pyruvate kinase-R activator designed to improve anemia and red blood cell health in patients with sickle cell disease (SCD).
SCD is an inherited disease that causes hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells, to become stiff and misshapen. This makes the normally round and flexible red blood cells stiff and sickle-shaped. Blockage of these sickled blood cells impedes blood flow as well as oxygen delivery to the tissues. The condition leads to complications, including vaso-occlusive crisis, which occurs when sickled red blood cells block blood flow to tissues, thereby depriving them of oxygen.
In a phase 1 trial, etavopivat was shown to increase hemoglobin in patients with cardiovascular disease, improve the health of their red blood cells, and reduce vaso-occlusive crises.
The drug is currently being studied worldwide Phase 2/3 experience involving patients with SCD, as well as Phase 2 involving patients with transfusion-dependent SCD or another inherited hemoglobinopathy called thalassemia. The first interim data release for Phase 2/3 is scheduled to take place before the end of the year.
The acquisition “is by no means unexpected,” Ludovic Helfgott, Novo’s executive vice president and head of rare diseases, said in an interview. The deal signals Novo’s commitment to develop more products to treat hematologic diseases, which Helfgott identified as an area of high unmet need.
Novo was attracted to etavopivat for several reasons. The drug has shown a good safety and efficacy profile during clinical trials and is convenient for patients as it only needs to be taken once a day. Novo also liked how versatile the drug can be — it can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, and it’s currently being developed for use in pediatric patients as well as adults, according to Helfgott.
This is not the first time Novo has made an acquisition to bolster its SCD portfolio. In 2018, the company paid $400 million for Ohio-based EpiDestiny’s early-stage SCD program. Together, Novo and EpiDestiny developed NDec, a fixed-dose oral formulation of decitabine and tetrahydrouridine for the treatment of SCD. The compound is currently in clinical development, Helfgott said.
Novo’s acquisition of Forma is the second multibillion-dollar SCD deal the pharmaceutical industry has seen in the past 30 days. Pfizer bifurcated 5.4 billion dollars in August to buy Global Blood Therapeutics, a company with one commercialized therapy for sickle cell anemia and a range of additional drugs in various stages of development for the blood disease.
Photo: Meletios Verras, Getty Images