Novartis bags a new eczema drug, builds dermatology pipeline with Ziarco buyout

Vasant Narasimhan, Global Head Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer for Novartis

Vasant Narasimhan, Global Head Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer for Novartis

Two days after Pfizer won an FDA approval for a new drug for atopic dermatitis which it acquired in a $5.2 billion buyout, Novartis has stepped in to snap up a mid-stage eczema rival that was spun out of the wreckage Pfizer left behind at Sandwich. Novartis, which generally hates to discuss deal terms, is keeping the numbers under wraps for now.

The object of its affection is Ziarco, a 5-year-old upstart that has gathered positive midstage data together for ZPL389, an oral drug that achieved statistically significant results for its H4 receptor antagonist. The Phase IIa delivered a 50% drop in EASI scores at 8 week, compared to 27% for the placebo. And the SCORAD marks registered a drop of 43% against 26%. The Phase IIb was slated to start in the second half of this year.

Those marks were good enough to gain Novartis’ attention after Ziarco reportedly began to hunt for a buyout last summer which Bloomberg reported at the time could be worth up to a billion dollars in an upfront and milestones.

Big Pharma has been leaping back into the atopic dermatitis arena as Regeneron and Sanofi are in the last leg of their odyssey to gain an approval for dupilumab, widely tapped as one of the biggest drugs in late-stage development. Pfizer — one of the original investors in Ziarco, which also likely got a close look at the data — acquired its newly approved atopic dermatitis drug in its acquisition of Anacor.

Why the interest? Dupilumab has excited a lot of analysts, some of whom think the drug could fetch up to $5 billion in peak sales, though others have a more modest blockbuster future in mind for Regeneron and Sanofi. Pfizer, meanwhile, believes its new topical therapy could earn a couple of billion dollars a year.

“We are proud of our dermatology capabilities shown by the recent successful launches of Cosentyx and Xolair,” said Vasant Narasimhan, the global head of drug development at Novartis. “Now we’re excited about a potential new medicine for people with eczema through the acquisition of Ziarco and the addition of a first-in-class oral H4 receptor antagonist to our growing pipeline.”

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