Dive Brief:

  • Swiss pharma Roche is again partnering with Ionis Therapeutics to develop one the biotech’s pipeline therapies, and has agreed to fork over $75 million upfront in the process.
  • The two companies initially teamed up in 2013, with the goal of creating treatments for Huntington’s disease. Roche has since licensed one of those treatments, IONIS-HTTRx, and is now adding complement-mediated diseases to the list of targets it hopes to hit with Ionis’ help.
  • Roche and Ionis will work on developing IONIS-FB-LRx, a therapy that targets an immune-regulating protein called factor B, for a range of complement-mediated diseases. First up is ​geographic atrophy, the advanced stage of the eye disease known as dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Dive Insight:

Like many biotechs, Ionis has made collaborations an integral part of its business strategy. Case in point: all three of the company’s commercialized products have partners — as do most of its clinical-stage assets.

GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Biogen are a few such partners, underscoring the interest from big pharma and biotech in Ionis’ antisense technology. Roche is another, and has already shelled out millions of dollars for access to Ionis’ pipeline.

Roche paid the biotech $30 million upfront per terms of their Huntington’s disease deal in 2013.

It could be on the line for much more too, including up to $365 million worth of licensing and milestone payments related to IONIS-HTTRx and $136.5 million for each additional therapy developed under the deal, according to Ionis’ most recent Securities and Exchange Commission quarterly filing.

As of the end of June, Ionis had taken home $107 million from the agreement.

From the pair’s latest deal, Ionis snagged $75 million upfront and is eligible for up to $684 million in various milestone payments. Plus, Ionis can get tiered royalties ranging from the high teens to 20% on potential IONIS-FB-LRx sales.

The biotech will be responsible for running a Phase 2 test of the therapy in patients with dry AMD and exploring it as a treatment for a “rare severe renal indication,” according to an Oct. 10 statement.

Meanwhile, Roche gains the option to license IONIS-FB-LRx once those investigations wrap up. If it chooses to do so, the big pharma will take on all development and commercialization activities.

“The collaboration is designed to maximize both the potential benefit to patients and the likelihood of success, while optimizing our commercial participation in IONIS-FB-LRx,” Brett Monia, chief operating officer at Ionis, said in the statement.

Ionis’ drug, should it ultimately secure approval, would also hand Roche a valuable therapy in the ophthalmology space, given the lack of available treatments for dry AMD. The wet form of AMD has already proven a lucrative field for Roche and other eye disease drugmakers, spurring products like Lucentis (ranibizumab) and Eylea (aflibercept) to reach blockbuster status.

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