Ovid and Takeda create a one-team strategy to steer a neuro drug to the world

Jeremy Levin’s team at Ovid Therapeutics has been scouring the globe for new drugs to treat orphan brain diseases. And after spending a year in discussions with a fast-changing Takeda, the little biotech and large pharma organization are bonding on a tightly knit partnership aimed at jointly advancing an early-stage program for rare epileptic encephalopathies that will see Ovid build a new group operation in Cambridge, MA.

The focus of this deal is on TAK-935, a CH24H inhibitor that Takeda has pushed through a slate of early studies to establish safety and the first brush strokes on efficacy. But the ink wasn’t applied until Ovid had already spent considerable quality time with the Takeda team.

“We spent a year with them,” Levin, the CEO of New York-based Ovid and the former chief at Teva, tells me. That gave both sides plenty of time to suss out each other’s scientific capabilities and get a solid idea of what each could bring to a program like this. And that courtship stage should help improve the odds for the R&D marriage that followed.

“It’s a 50/50 agreement,” says Levin. “Intellectually, we contribute. People, capital, we contribute. And Takeda does the same.”

Instead of a cash upfront, the startup is providing Takeda with an equity stake in Ovid, and the two companies will work under a joint steering committee to design upcoming studies, starting with Phase Ia/IIb trials to cover three rare neurological conditions. They’ll split the costs, and split the world market later for any drug that survives pivotal trials. Ovid will stay in charge of markets in the US, Europe, Canada and Israel, where Levin’s experience lies. And Takeda gets the rest of the world, steering the treatment in Asia.

The deal bears some similarities to a pact that Takeda struck with Vivek Ramaswamy to start Myovant last summer, taking equity for clinical stage work. And it comes as Takeda has been hammering its R&D division into a brand new shape. That reorganization has increased its focus on Cambridge, MA, where Ovid has already begun to recruit a group of 15 to 30 people to work out of One Broadway, close to their pharma partners.

Yaron Werber

“Give Takeda a lot of credit,” says Chief Business and Financial Officer Yaron Werber, a Citi vet and former biotech analyst. “They don’t have all the expertise in-house. They don’t focus on rare neurological conditions.”

Ovid, though, has been all about that, with a lead drug — OV101 —in development for Angelman syndrome and Fragile X syndrome. And this second program is a likely precursor to more licensing deals as Ovid builds up its pipeline.

“Yes,” Levin tells me. “There are other companies we are talking to.” And he plans to stay carefully focused on orphan diseases of the brain, with plans to double the staff to about 60 by the end of 2017.

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