Pfizer this morning bought an experimental heart disease drug from Akcea therapeutics, the first move made by the Ionis Pharmaceuticals spinout since the company overhauled its management team last month.
Pfizer will pay Akcea (NASDAQ: AKCA) and parent Ionis (NASDAQ: IONS) $250 million up front for rights to AKCEA-ANGPTL3-Lrx, an RNA-based medicine currently in a 144-patient Phase 2 study in people with type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides, or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Akcea and Ionis will split the cash payment. Akcea and Ionis could get another $1.3 billion in downstream payments, though that cash is tied to various milestones and may never materialize.
Results from the Phase 2 trial are expected next year. Pfizer will foot the bill for all future studies. Boston-based Akcea can opt to buy back some rights to the drug in the US and elsewhere.
The move comes two weeks after three top Akcea executives left the company in a management shakeup. Akcea didn’t give any reason for the moves at the time, but they were engineered just as the company had begun selling its first two drugs—volanesorsen (Waylivra), a treatment for familial chylomicronemia syndrome, and inotersen (Tegsedi), for the rare disease hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis (hATTR). Akcea has yet to report revenue from Waylivra. And Tegsedi is battling for market share with two other recently approved transthyretin amyloidosis treatments from Pfizer and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY).
“It’s hard to interpret this any other way than Ionis and the Akcea board were unhappy with leadership and/or want to in some fashion change focus,” Stifel analyst Paul Matteis wrote at the time. It “sends a loud message when three core executives unexpectedly depart.”
When Akcea announced the management shakeup, it said that it planned to acquire more drugs from Ionis—its majority owner–and potentially add others through deals. The effort is being led by interim CEO Damien McDevitt, the chief business officer of Ionis and a former business development executive at GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK). McDevitt, in a statement, said the Pfizer deal will help “accelerate clinical development” of AKCEA-ANGPTL3-Lrx. The drug is meant to help lower patients’ levels of triglycerides and cholesterol by impacting production of the protein angiopoietin-like 3 in the liver.
Ionis spun Akcea out in 2015 with rights to Tegsedi, Waylivra, and three drugs for cardiometabolic diseases, among them AKCEA-ANGPTL3-Lrx. Akcea went public in 2017 at $8 per share.