Vivek Ramaswamy got started in biotech paying a pittance for a failed Alzheimer’s drug at GlaxoSmithKline — which flopped miserably in Phase III. Now one of his biotech companies is going back to GSK for a new drug to put in the late-stage pipeline, but the penny ante game is over.
Dermavant, helmed by Celgene vet Jackie Fouse, has inked a $330 million deal to buy the Phase III-ready tapinarof (GSK2894512), with close to $200 million of that coming in an upfront payment. The drug has scored positive Phase II data, putting it into the lineup of experimental drugs following Dupixent from Sanofi and Regeneron. And that will set the bar for success in psoriasis and atopic dermatitis at a very high level.
The deal marks the latest move by GlaxoSmithKline chief Emma Walmsley in revamping the pipeline in anticipation of an evolving strategic shift under new R&D boss Hal Barron, which will include a much bigger focus on late-stage oncology programs.
Noted GSK SVP John Lepore:
We have taken a strategic decision to divest or partner medicines in our R&D portfolio that are a better fit for other companies allowing us to concentrate our resources on other promising assets.
If they’re successful, Dermavant will be up against some big league rivals. But is it good enough?
The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory topical cream— which activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor — hasn’t been a high-profile agent. But researchers have highlighted promising data to underscore its potential.
The deal comes a year after Roche outlicensed a disappointing lebrikizumab to Dermira.
It also follows some big moves at Ramaswamy’s Roivant companies, which has been reorganized in the wake of the Axovant failures. The changes, though, haven’t changed Ramaswamy’s intention of building a major player with many different arms grappling with a wide variety of diseases.
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