Vifor joins forces with Evotec on kidney disease joint venture

Evotec has teamed up with Swiss pharma company Vifor to create a joint venture that will focus on developing drugs for kidney disease, drawing on data from thousands of UK patients.

Vifor is putting €25 million (around $28 million) into the 50:50 venture and will provide the commercial platform for any drugs arising from the partnership, with Evotec providing the drug discovery capabilities.

Analyst Brigitte de Lima of Goetzpartners said Vifor is a “highly complementary” partner for Evotec as it already has “multiple marketed drugs across many kidney indications” and has the financial means to fund clinical development of partnered drug products.

What Vifor lacks however is early-stage R&D capabilities, and these will be provided by Evotec, helping the Swiss firm in its ambition to become “a leading global player in nephrology.” Vifor will be the exclusive licensing partner for all drugs developed by the JV.

Central to the alliance is Evotec’s relationship with the UK-based kidney biobank NURTuRE, which allows it to feed patient data into the drug discovery process in an attempt to increase success rates whilst also lowering development timelines and costs.

The German biotech says it intends to mine the biobank data using tools from its PanHunter bioinformatics platform, initially to find disease targets and then to generate drug candidates for development.

NURTuRE is said to be the one of the largest kidney patient registries worldwide, with patient tissue, samples and linked clinical data from around 3,000 patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and 800 people with idiopathic nephrotic syndrome (INS), drawn from England, Scotland and Wales.

Clinical development and commercial costs will be shared equally by the two partners, with Evotec retaining opt-out rights at each stage as part of a profit-share agreement.

Vifor already sells products like Veltassa (patiromer) for hyperkalaemia, a potentially life-threatening complication of kidney disease which can cause cardiac arrest and muscle paralysis, as well as drugs for anaemia caused by CKD.

The company recently signed a deal to co-market Johnson & Johnson’s blockbuster diabetes drug Invokana (canagliflozin) in diabetic kidney disease, and according to de Lima is on course to post more than CHF 2 billion ($2.02 billion) in sales next year and make profits of around CHF 700 million.

Its R&D in this area also includes a partnership with ChemoCentryx on rare diseases, which is focused on avacopan (CCX168) for ANCA associated vasculitis (AAV) – an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in organs including the kidneys – and CCX140 for diabetic nephropathy.

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