Is this Novartis‘ next blockbuster? The Swiss company has acquired GlaxoSmithKline‘s (GSK) immunosuppressive antibody Ofatumumab for up to $1Bn. The new drug allows Novartis to enter the multiple sclerosis market for the third time.

Earlier this year, Novartis purchased GSK’s oncology portfolio for $16 billion (€14Bn), including the fully human monoclonal anitbody Ofatumumab, which is already on the market for the treatment of leukemia.

Today, the Swiss giant announced that it will also buy all the remaining indications for this drug, with a special focus on multiple sclerosis in mind. On that account, Novartis will pay $300 million (€266M) upfront, $200 million (€178M) to start a phase III and further $534 million (€473M) milestone payments are waiting for GSK during its way to the market. In any future sales, the latter would receive  12% of royalties.

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How does the drug work?

Patients suffering from relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis frequently experience inflammatory attacks that damage the brain and its neurological functions. These attacks are triggered by the activation of B cells, a type of white blood cell in the immune system. Ofatumumab works by binding to the CD20 molecule on the surface of B cells, which leads to their elimination.

Phase IIa results demonstrated that the drug reduced up to 90% of new brain lesions in patients. Based on these impressive results, Ofatumumab is ready for Phase III.

However, the drug is not a one-of-a-kind. Roche’s similar CD20 antibody Ocrelizumab is already in Phase III, and its approval request shall be submitted to US and EU regulatory authorities in the first quarter of 2016.

Both treatments are on their way to become new blockbusters on the multiple sclerosis market. As for Novartis, the drug would follow up to its already approved multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya, which gave more than $2 billion (€1.8Bn) in revenues in 2010.

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