MoonLake launches, licensing in Merck KGaA’s Cosentyx challenger sonelokimab

There’s a new biotech on the scene after MoonLake Immunotherapeutics launched on a mission to develop sonelokimab, a potential inflammatory diseases drug in-licensed from Germany’s Merck KGaA.

The announcement comes a few days after Merck KGaA’s development partner Avillion announced supportive results in a phase 2 psoriasis trial.

MoonLake has swiftly in-licensed the drug discovered by Sanofi’s Ablynx unit, with plans to develop the drug targeting IL-17A and F.

German Merck acquired rights to sonelokimab in 2013 from Ablynx, five years before Sanofi acquired the Belgian biotech, but has decided that it does not fit with its portfolio focused on cancer, neurogenerative diseases, fertility and endocrinology.

Based in Switzerland, MoonLake was founded with Series A financing led by BVF Partners with Merck KGaA taking a minority stake.

German Merck also received an undisclosed milestone payment and will be eligible for development and commercial milestone payments as well as “industry standard” royalties on net sales.

Sonelokimab is a single-domain antibody – a fragment of an antibody that can bind specifically to an antigen with high affinity.

It is a potential competitor to Novartis’ blockbuster Cosentyx (secukinumab) and clinical evidence for its use in dermatology and rheumatology is already stacking up.

There was little indication why Merck considered the drug to be surplus to requirements.

Spike Loy, managing director of BVF Partners said MoonLake’s “expert immunology team…has the depth and breadth of experience to ensure sonelokimab achieves its full potential in a range of inflammatory skin and joint diseases.”

Moonlake described sonelokimab as a tri-specific, balanced IL-17A/F inhibitor with an albumin binding site, which has the potential to facilitate deep tissue penetration in the skin and joints.

The company noted that it numerically outperformed Cosentyx in a phase 2b clinical trial in moderate-to-severe psoriasis patients.

Sonelokimab’s mechanism of action could open up indications in diseases such as psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and hidraenitis suppurativa.

Other potential disease targets include palmoplantar pustulosis, generalised pustular psoriasis and pyoderma gangrenosum.

Several further phase 2 trials are planned soon, the company said.

The CEO has not yet been announced but chief operating officer Arnout Ploos van Amstel has been announced as co-founder and chief operating officer.

This follows a long career in biopharma including at Novartis, where he headed the firm’s global immunology, hepatology and dermatology business unit.

He also held several positions during a 17-year stint at Wyeth before moving on following its acquisition by Pfizer.

Professor Kristian Reich is the other co-founder and will be chief scientific officer, with more than 25 years of experience in dermatology and immunology.

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