Weeks after launching Aeterna Zentaris castoff, Strongbridge turns around and sells rights to Novo Nordisk — at a premium

Reaching what appears to be an end to its winding journey to market, the growth hormone drug Macrilen has just found a new home in the US and Canada.

Matthew Pauls

Novo Nordisk has scooped up regional rights to the asset from Strongbridge Biopharma, which bought them from Aeterna Zentaris this January for $24 million upfront and some milestones. That’s a bargain price compared to what the Danish drugmaker is offering now: $145 million, plus an equity investment worth more than $36 million as well as tiered royalties through 2027.

The deal reflects more than just the value of the drug, Trevose, PA-based Strongbridge says. The two companies have negotiated an agreement in which Strongbridge will deploy — on Novo’s behalf — the field force it has built for Macrilen’s launch just four months ago, working alongside Novo’s own sales unit. The team of 23 will be fully reimbursed by Novo, which will amount to $20 million to $25 million in payment over time, Strongbridge CEO Matthew Pauls noted in a conference call.

Macrilen, an oral ghrelin agonist, is indicated for the diagnosis of adult growth hormone deficiency.

Jesper Brandgaard

For Novo — a committed diabetes giant looking to revamp its biopharma unit — the drug complements an endocrinology pipeline currently dominated by the growth hormone therapy Norditropin and its related products.

“The acquisition of Macrilen is in line with the strategy for our biopharm business with growth being driven by both organic and bolt-on initiatives,” said Jesper Brandgaard, EVP and head of biopharm, who’s set to retire at the end of this year and pass the role onto AstraZeneca vet Ludovic Helfgott.

From Strongbridge’s standpoint, Pauls says, it’s an opportunity to help “open up, potentially unleash the growth hormone market.” His team has been “in construction mode building a rare disease company,” and the infusion of cash will help fund their work on levoketoconazole, a therapy for Cushing’s syndrome.

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