Novo Nordisk diversifies with $2.1bn deal to buy Corvidia

Novo Nordisk has taken another step towards expanding beyond its heartlands of diabetes and obesity with a deal to buy US biotech Corvidia Therapeutics and its lead drug for chronic kidney disease (CKD).

The deal starts with $725 million in an upfront cash payment and could swell to $2.1 billion if certain regulatory and commercial milestones are achieved.

Corvidia’s lead drug candidate – interleukin-6 inhibitor ziltivekimab (formerly COR-001) – is being developed as a therapy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems in CKD who have atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) and inflammation.

The drug is currently in a phase 2b dose-ranging trial called RESCUE that is due to generate results in September. IL-6 has been linked to the build-up of fatty plaques in the arties of people with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

There’s a strong relationship between diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease of course, but the deal signals Novo Nordisk’s intention to move sideways into new areas as the market for diabetes therapies – particularly insulins – continues to be squeezed by pricing pressures.

The Danish drugmaker is also facing a hit to sales of its biggest-selling insulin NovoLog, which brought in around $2.7 billion in sales last year, from generic competition.

Corvidia’s decision to advance ziltivekimab for CKD and cardiovascular disease is also notable, as approved IL-6 inhibitors – including Roche’s Actemra/RoActemra (tocilizumab) and Sanofi’s Kevzara (sarilumab) – are approved for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

There are no approved therapies in the US to prevent cardiovascular complications in CKD patients with atherosclerosis, according to Corvidia.

The company maintains that the CANTOS trial of Novartis IL-1-targeting drug Ilaris (canakinumab) – while negative overall – “supports our theory that reducing IL-6 could result in a significant cardiovascular benefit, specifically for patients who have reduced kidney function.

The takeover of Corvidia doesn’t only bring in ziltivekimab. Corvidia is also developing COR-003, a drug targeting apolipoprotein C2 (ApoC2) that is designed to reduce triglyceride levels in the blood of patients hospitalised with acute pancreatitis, a sudden inflammation of the pancreas. Once again, there are no FDA-approved therapies for this indication, says Corvidia.

The deal comes on the tail of a perceptible increase in partnering activity at Novo Nordisk as it follows a diversification strategy. Last year, for example it agreed to work with Dicerna on gene-silencing for liver-related cardio-metabolic disease in a deal that involved a $225 million upfront payment.

It also acquired rights to a preclinical drug that could be used to treat non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) from Japan’s UBE, and partnered with bluebird bio on gene-editing drugs for haemophilia.

Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.