Novartis plots 'next frontier' of MS treatment — and it could spell a buyout for a small Swiss player
A couple of months after getting its self-administered multiple sclerosis drug Kesimpta cleared by EU regulators, Novartis has found what it believes is “the next frontier” of MS treatment at a University of Zurich spinout — and it’s already laying the groundwork for a buyout.
Novartis struck a deal to develop Cellerys’ cell therapy CLS12311, which is designed to induce antigen-specific immune tolerance in MS patients, the pharma said on Tuesday. The drugmakers have been in talks for several years, according to a Novartis spokesperson, and upon completion of a Phase II trial in “coming years,” the pharma will have a chance to acquire Cellerys.
The drugmakers didn’t release many details, other than to say that Novartis will “support the development” of CLS12311, and they’re keeping the financial terms of the deal under wraps for now.
“Immune tolerance therapies offer the potential to intervene early and decisively in the development of MS, to potentially stop progression of the disease,” the spokesperson told Endpoints News in an email.
Cellerys was founded in 2015 by University of Zurich professors and MS specialists Roland Martin and Andreas Lutterotti. CLS12311 was shown to be safe and well-tolerated in a Phase I trial at the University Hospital Zurich, according to Novartis, and it’s now in Phase II for relapsing MS — the same indication that Kesimpta snagged an FDA approval for back in August.
Kesimpta — Novartis’ B-cell therapy also known as ofatumumab — was approved by the EC in March, several months after it was given the OK in the US. Novartis originally got the drug from GlaxoSmithKline in their big vaccines-for-cancer therapies swap, but had a hard time selling it as a leukemia therapy. In MS, the drug showed a 51% and 59% reduction in annualized relapse rate compared to Sanofi’s Aubagio in ASCLEPIOS I and II, winning over regulators after a delayed decision.
The treatment can be administered at home, which gave it a leg up on rivals that require a trip to an infusion center — and Novartis charges for that convenience. Back in August, the pharma announced Kesimpta’s wholesale price would be $83,000. That’s much higher than Roche’s rival Ocrevus, which hit the market at a discounted price of $65,000. In Q1 of this year, Kesimpta pulled in $50 million.