Supernus bags early-stage CNS drug for $15M upfront in renewed epilepsy R&D efforts

A few years into marketing their two epilepsy drugs, the neurology and psychiatry experts at Supernus Pharma are going back to the drawing board with a new asset.

Supernus $SUPN is paying $15 million upfront to acquire Biscayne Neurotherapeutics and their Phase I program, with development and sales milestones totalling $73 million and $95 million respectively. A low single digit royalty would also be due should the drug ever reach the market.

While the numbers are small, it’s a considerable win for Miami-based Biscayne Neurotherapeutics, which spun out of Biscayne Pharma less than two years ago with $3 million in funding.

Steven Schachter

Their epilepsy treatment — now called SPN-817 — is a synthetic form of huperzine A, a supplement with roots in Chinese medicine that people sometimes take for memory impairment. It inhibits the acetylcholinesterase enzyme, thereby regulating a neurotransmitter responsible for sending signals to muscles called acetylcholine.

“In addition to its powerful antiseizure activity in preclinical models of severe epilepsy, BIS-001 has exhibited the cognition-enhancing properties seen with other AChE drugs, but with much better central nervous system and systemic tolerability and safety than currently available agents,” Steven Schachter, a Harvard professor who co-founded Biscayne, said at its launch. “At a minimum, we are optimistic it will be devoid of the detrimental effects on cognition seen with many existing antiepileptic drugs.”

Jack Khattar

Supernus has a long way to go in proving that optimism — and a number of rivals to contend with. GW Pharma scored the very first cannabis-derived drug approval weeks ago to treat Dravet syndrome, the exact form of rare pediatric epilepsy that Supernus plans to start with. Zogenix is lining up with their pitch for the same indication with a therapy backed by a slate of positive Phase III data.

But it’s also had some time to navigate the epilepsy market with their extended release pills Oxtellar XR (oxcarbazepine) and Trokendi (topiramate), with which SPN-817 will be a “strong strategic fit” according to CEO Jack Khattar.

The priority now is to develop an extended release oral dosage for the drug, while finishing up a proof-of-concept in adult patients with refractory complex partial seizures.

Other programs in Supernus’ pipeline target ADHD, bipolar disorder, and depression.

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