Dicerna scores broad, 'rest of liver' deal with Novo Nordisk, bagging $225M in cash to hit some 30 targets with RNAi platform
Turns out Dicerna wasn’t done with deals yet after locking in $200 million upfront from Roche for a hepatitis B cocktail two weeks ago.
Novo Nordisk has signed on as the latest partner to its GalXC RNAi platform, handing over $175 million in cash to claim any and all targets of interest in liver-related cardio-metabolic diseases that are not already reserved in previous pacts. The Danish drugmaker — which has signaled its interest to expand considerably beyond its core diabetes franchise into areas like NASH — is also purchasing $50 million worth of Dicerna’s equity at a 25% premium of $21.93 per share. More research payments and milestones extending to the billions are on the line.
Dicerna CEO Doug Fambrough describes the deal as a “capstone” for its partnering efforts in the liver space and a further sign that the biotech has entered a more mature phase of partnering with increased scope and value.
In a call with analysts and investors following the announcement, he adopted a real estate analogy:
If you think of the liver as an island, there are individual properties on the island that we have partnered — complement with Alexion, a couple of particular targets in NASH with BI, et cetera. The collaboration with Novo has as its purview the rest of the land on the island that is not partnered in any of the four existing collaborations and we will not be selling any additional real estates, so to speak, that Novo could choose to develop. This allows new insights that come from human genetics or frankly any source to inspire Novo to include a target in the collaboration.
Dicerna is tasked with discovery and preclinical candidate selection on a number of liver cell targets for disorders spanning chronic liver disease, NASH, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and rare diseases. Novo Nordisk has committed to $25 million per year during the first three years. While the duo hasn’t disclosed how many years they expect the collaboration to run, the plan is to explore around 30 throughout the period.
But Dicerna’s ambitions here go beyond starting programs for bigger companies to take over. It has negotiated an option to opt into two drugs for more prevalent ailments after viewing clinical data generated by Novo — allowing their clinical team to buy into successes without bearing the cost, Fambrough highlighted. Under the deal, it can also initiate the development of two orphan drugs that the bigger partner can opt in to.
The “really broad” collaboration is designed to focus less on individual genes than the potential of different combination approaches in a number of liver diseases, COO Jim Weissman said.
Internally, Dicerna has been applying its platform routinely to examine a list of genes associated with different cardiometabolic diseases, according to CSO Bob Brown.
“We just routinely knock them out and then use the GalXC molecules we identified there to interrogate the gene function in the relevant disease models that we run routinely in house,” he said on the call. “There’s no direct alignment of lists yet, but we’ve interrogated approximately 40 genes this way in different models of cardiometabolic disease.”
Novo has yet to identify the genes that they would like to start with, but Fambrough noted that the targets they have expressed interest in are still “very much available.”
Adding to previous deals with Boehringer Ingelheim, Alexion, Eli Lilly and Roche, the influx of capital from Novo should keep Dicerna fully funded for at least a year after the envisioned commercial launch of their lead program in primary hyperoxaluria, the management said.
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