[Update 06.30.2015] According to an email sent to FierceBiotech by Spinifex’s CEO Tom McCarthy, Novartis could pay an additional $500m (approximately €445m) of future milestones to Spinifex’s shareholders.

Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, a US-Australian biotechnology company has just been bought by Novartis. With this acquisition, the Swiss giant aims to control the development of EMA401, a new treatment for chronic pain.

Spinifex’s lead candidate EMA401 is a novel angiotensin II type 2 (AT2) receptor antagonist, being developed as a potential first-in-class oral treatment for chronic pain. AT2 receptor antagonists are a group of molecules modulating the renin-angiotensin system, a hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance. EMA401 has been developed to cure neuropathic pain by acting on this hormone system, without central nervous system side effects.

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Neuropathic pain is caused by a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system, induced by diverse reasons including diabetes, cancer, viruses and nerve trauma. Current treatments for neuropathic pain do not work in all individuals or are inducing strong side-effects. A new treatment is therefore needed for those patients.

Positive results from Spinifex’s Phase II clinical trial of EMA401 have shown a reduction of the pain intensity in patients with a painful condition that develops in some individuals following herpes zoster. Novartis will continue the development of EMA401 and is planning to initiate Phase IIb clinical trials.  Novartis also intends to build on these two key indications and pursues a broad peripheral neuropathic pain label for EMA401 that will ensure the future revenues of the drug.

In addition to the $200M  upfront payment (approximately €180M) from Novartis, Spinifex shareholders will receive payments on future clinical development and regulatory milestones.

Established in 2005 and based in Stamford, Connecticut and Melbourne, Australia, Spinifex’s portfolio has been based on the research of Professor Maree Smith from University of Queensland, Australia.  Over the years, Spinifex has been financed by investors like Novo A/S, Canaan Partners, GBS Venture Partners, Brandon Capital Partners, Uniseed and UniQuest from University of Queensland, Australia.

The exit of Spinifex and the potential of EMA401 is a significant example of how an international venture capital syndicate, partnering with Australian based investors, can bring university technology closer to commercialisation.

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