Allergan goes on a buying spree for NASH drugs, adding Akarna in M&A double header

Brent Saunders, Allergan

Brent Saunders, Allergan

Allergan $AGN is pulling out all the stops in ramping up its own NASH pipeline in record time. Just hours after announcing plans to bag Tobira $TBRA for a jaw-dropping premium in a $1.7 billion deal, the fast-growing pharma bagged the fledgling UK biotech Akarna for $50 million upfront and an unspecified set of milestones.

This new deal adds Akarna’s lead therapy, one of its non-bile acid FXR agonists dubbed AKN-083. And there are more preclinical FXR therapies in the works that will now be fed into Allergan’s overnight R&D expansion. Akarna announced a modest $15 million B round back in February.

Akarna is focused on a nuclear hormone receptor expressed in the liver, which many believe is the kind of master regulator that can be used to treat NASH, a fatty liver disease that’s growing rapidly. Intercept’s $ICPT Ocaliva, approved in the US, targets FXR. Gilead’s $GILD experimental GS-9674 is also a player. Allergan will now set out to try and beat them both in upcoming clinical studies.

Allergan announced this morning that it had agreed to pay Tobira’s investors six times what their stock was worth at the close of business on Monday. That deal delivered two drugs, including cenicriviroc, which flunked a Phase IIb study for NASH in July. The South San Francisco-based biotech, though, said it got enough positive data on a secondary endpoint to warrant a move into a pivotal Phase III program.

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders has said he plans a series of stepping stone deals to beef up the pipeline, with new deals ranging from Phase I through late-stage development. He’s not waiting around to savor each one, instead choosing to leap from one to the next. Allergan acquired Vitae just a few days ago, and more deals are clearly in the works.

David Nicholson, Chief Research & Development Officer, Allergan, had this to say about deal number two:

“AKN-083 is a highly differentiated, selective FXR agonist which is a strongly validated therapeutic mechanism for the treatment of NASH. In addition, AKN-083 is a non-bile acid FXR agonist that in preclinical studies has shown high affinity, potency and selectivity with a better tolerability profile. These characteristics make AKN-083 a great addition to our portfolio of assets for the treatment of NASH.”

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