Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes weeks af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.

The two treat­ments be­long to a fam­i­ly of drugs that ac­ti­vate pro­teins called per­ox­i­some pro­lif­er­a­tor-ac­ti­vat­ed re­cep­tors (PPARs), which reg­u­late gene ex­pres­sion. Ex­ist­ing ev­i­dence sug­gests that in the liv­er, PPAR ag­o­nists play a role in bile acid syn­the­sis, in­flam­ma­tion, fi­bro­sis and lipid me­tab­o­lism.

NASH is an un­treat­ed fat­ty liv­er dis­ease that has rav­aged the de­vel­oped world, cre­at­ing a lu­cra­tive tar­get that has sparked a flur­ry of drug de­vel­op­ment from bio­phar­ma firms big and small. It is char­ac­ter­ized by a buildup of ex­cess fat in the liv­er that in­duces chron­ic in­flam­ma­tion and even­tu­al­ly cul­mi­nates in scar­ring that can lead to cir­rho­sis, liv­er fail­ure, can­cer and death.

Pas­cal Pri­gen LinkedIn

Dubbed the silent dis­ease, it is hard to di­ag­nose in the ear­ly stages, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to es­ti­mate its preva­lence, but stud­ies show that it af­flicts up to 12% of the adult pop­u­la­tion in de­vel­oped coun­tries. Al­though there are no ap­proved drugs for the dis­ease, the size of the NASH mar­ket is ex­pect­ed to cross $20 bil­lion by 2025.

While oth­er ma­jor NASH con­tenders — Gilead $GILD (fail in Phase III) and In­ter­cept $ICPT (mixed win in Phase III) — have dis­closed the top-line num­bers of their late-stage tri­als, Gen­fit is ex­pect­ed to come out with its Phase III in­ter­im re­sults by the end of 2019, or ear­ly 2020.

Late-stage da­ta on In­ter­cept’s drug — obeti­cholic acid (OCA) — showed it in­duced a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in fi­bro­sis, but not NASH res­o­lu­tion, and a high­er-than-ex­pect­ed num­ber of pa­tients dropped out due to the pesky side-ef­fect of itch­ing. In con­trast to In­ter­cept, Gen­fit has em­pha­sized that elafi­bra­nor’s po­ten­tial in NASH res­o­lu­tion and re­duc­ing CV risk along with a be­nign safe­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty pro­file have set it apart.

“We think we’re go­ing to be the first drug on the mar­ket that can re­solve NASH,” Gen­fit’s COO Dean Hum stressed in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

He sug­gest­ed that Cymabay had “made a mis­take” to fo­cus on liv­er fat, when they should have con­cen­trat­ed on in­flam­ma­tion and fi­bro­sis — the fac­tors that con­sti­tute NASH res­o­lu­tion.

But some an­a­lysts are not quite as con­vinced.

In the af­ter­math of the Cymabay da­ta, Baird’s Bri­an Sko­r­ney sug­gest­ed se­ladel­par and elafi­bra­nor are be­gin­ning to ap­pear more sim­i­lar than dif­fer­ent.

“Though the two med­ica­tions were thought to have dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed mech­a­nisms of ac­tion, it seems that this may not be the case, as se­ladel­par’s da­ta sug­gest that the med­ica­tion does not re­duce liv­er fat, which is sim­i­lar to what we have seen from ear­li­er tri­als of elafi­bra­nor. This leads us to be­lieve that these two PPARs look much more sim­i­lar than dif­fer­ent. Hence, CymaBay may be at a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tage mov­ing for­ward as we be­lieve that even if PPAR ag­o­nism is suc­cess­ful in Gen­fit‘s Phase 3 tri­al, with­out any clear signs of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, CymaBay may have an up­hill bat­tle as they work to catch up to Gen­fit in NASH. If elafi­bra­nor fails in NASH, it would prob­a­bly be pre­dic­tive of the out­come of se­ladel­par in NASH. Ei­ther way, we think this makes the PPAR class, as a whole, look like a less sig­nif­i­cant com­pet­i­tive threat to OCA.”

While the bulk of obe­si­ty and re­lat­ed dis­eases have tra­di­tion­al­ly been the wheel­house of the West­ern world, rapid ur­ban­iza­tion in parts of Asia has nor­mal­ized seden­tary lifestyles and over­nu­tri­tion, set­ting the stage for obe­si­ty in epi­dem­ic pro­por­tions. A study pub­lished in 2017 sug­gests the in­ci­dence of obe­si­ty has been in­creas­ing at an alarm­ing rate, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Chi­na, Japan and In­dia. “The num­ber of obese Chi­nese peo­ple was be­low 0.1 mil­lion in 1975, ris­ing to 43.2 mil­lion in 2014 and ac­count­ing for 16.3% of glob­al obe­si­ty,” re­searchers found.

Gen­fit’s new part­ner Terns is well versed in NASH. Last year, it joined forces with Eli Lil­ly to de­vel­op the US drug­mak­er’s ear­ly-stage NASH as­sets, in ad­di­tion to its own.

Un­der the deal, Terns — which has op­er­a­tions in Cal­i­for­nia, as well as a set­up in Chi­na — will hand over $35 mil­lion up­front, in ad­di­tion to up to $193 mil­lion in po­ten­tial mile­stone pay­ments to de­vel­op Gen­fit’s late-stage as­set elafi­bra­nor for use in NASH and pri­ma­ry bil­iary cholan­gi­tis (PBC).

A key rea­son be­hind the deal was that since elafi­bra­nor’s ex­ist­ing late-stage study does not in­clude Chi­nese pa­tients, an­oth­er Phase III study in­clud­ing such pa­tients would be re­quired for Chi­nese ap­proval, Pas­cal Pri­gent, Gen­fit’s ex­ec­u­tive VP of mar­ket­ing and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment, told End­points News.

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