Novartis buys NASH biotech IFM Tre in potential $1.575 bn deal


Novartis is to buy US biotech IFM Tre in a deal worth up to $1.575 billion, adding a potential drug for the fatty liver disease known as NASH to its pipeline.

IFM Tre is a subsidiary of cancer biotech IFM Therapeutics, which was bought by Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2017 in a deal worth $2.3 billion.

At the time IFM’s non-oncology assets were spun out into two biotechs – IFM Tre and IFM Due, focusing on NLRP3 antagonists, and cGAS/STING antagonists respectively.

The acquisition gives Novartis one clinical and two preclinical drugs targeting the NLRP3 inflammasome, which could provide therapies for several metabolic, fibrotic, autoimmune, and neurologic diseases.

NLRP3 drugs are of interest to pharma and biotech firms researching drugs for a range of diseases.

These include non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the fatty liver disease for which there is no approved treatment.

Big pharma companies including Gilead and Roche hope that drugs approved in the future to treat NASH could generate billions of dollars in revenue.

The NLRP3 inflammasome plays a critical role in the innate immune system by fighting off potentially dangerous pathogens and internally-developing diseases.

But overactivation of NLRP3 is associated with a range of diseases – aside from NASH, NLRP3 has been linked with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions.

IFM Tre's parent company is looking at ways to stimulate NLRP3 with drugs, in order to develop a new form of cancer immunotherapy.

Boston-based IFM Tre’s pipeline includes IFM-2427, a clinical stage systemic antagonist for an array of chronic inflammatory disorders, including gout, atherosclerosis, and NASH.

There is also a preclinical-stage gut-directed molecule for treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, and a preclinical-stage molecule capable of penetrating the central nervous system.

Under the terms of the agreement, Novartis will acquire all of the outstanding capital stock of IFM Tre $310 million upfront plus milestones that could bring the total payout to $1.575 billion.

The deal is set to close in the second quarter if it clears US antitrust regulations.

Gary Glick, CEO and co-founder of IFM Therapeutics, said: “Today’s announcement marks a significant milestone in the development of next-generation therapies for serious inflammatory conditions.

“Based on substantial pre-clinical and translational data, we believe NLRP3 inhibition represents a novel approach to preventing the overactive inflammation that drives the onset and progression of numerous metabolic, fibrotic, autoimmune and neurological diseases.

“With Novartis we have identified a partner that shares our conviction in the potential of this approach, and who has deep expertise bringing inflammatory and autoimmune disease therapeutics to market.”

Late last year Novartis' Swiss rival Roche bought Jecure, a biotech that is also investigating whether NLRP3 drugs can be used to treat NASH.