Novartis & IFM Team Up Again, With Buyout Option for Autoimmune R&D

Xconomy Boston — 

IFM Therapeutics has lined up another pact with a big pharma company, and it’s the second one in less than a year with Novartis.

Boston-based IFM Therapeutics announced Thursday that Novartis (NYSE: NVS) has agreed to pay the research and development costs of IFM Due, a subsidiary developing immunotherapies for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Novartis gains an exclusive option to acquire IFM Due.

The companies did not disclose how much Novartis is paying up front to kick off the partnership. But if the Basel, Switzerland pharmaceutical giant exercises its option to acquire IFM Due, the biotech’s shareholders will receive up to $840 million, according to the agreement.

The deal marks another win for IFM Therapeutics’ unusual business structure. The company develops drugs that hit targets in the innate immune system to treat cancer, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory diseases. The firm houses its programs in subsidiaries that operate independently, but share in the resources of IFM Therapeutics. The company formed after IFM cancer programs were sold to Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) in 2017.

The IFM Due deal comes five months after Novartis agreed to pay $310 million up front to acquire IFM Tre, an IFM Therapeutics subsidiary developing drugs to treat inflammation by targeting a group of proteins called NLR. Additional milestone payments could bring the value of that deal to $1.26 billion.

IFM Due launched in February. Its research focuses on the cGAS/STING pathway, which detects signals of cellular danger and then triggers an inflammatory response. IFM Due says that mutations that activate this pathway can cause rare inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, such as Aicardi-Goutières syndrome, STING-associated vasculopathy with onset in infancy, and a type of lupus. Abnormal activation of the cGAS/STING pathway is also the basis of more common diseases including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, age-related macular degeneration, and Parkinson’s disease, the company says.

IFM Due has two preclinical programs: a STING inhibitor intended to block inflammatory proteins, and a cGAS inhibitor to block a different part of the pathway. Both compounds are small molecule drugs.

Photo by Flickr user Robbie Shade via a Creative Commons license