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Roche Gains Place in NASH Race with Purchase of Jecure Therapeutics

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Roche is acquiring San Diego startup Jecure Therapeutics, with hopes of turning Jecure’s early research into a drug or drugs that treat the liver disease NASH.

Through its South San Francisco, CA-based Genentech division, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant will acquire Jecure, whose work has yet to reach clinical studies, the companies announced Tuesday. No financial terms were disclosed, but a Genentech spokesman said it was an all-cash deal.

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, is a serious form of fatty liver disease that causes inflammation and scarring in the organ. There are no FDA-approved drugs for NASH, and in cases where the condition progresses to liver failure, patients require a liver transplant.

Roche must catch up to a number of other companies, large and small, that already have NASH drug candidates in Phase 2 or 3 testing. Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) and Allergan (NYSE: AGN) each shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire NASH drug candidates. Last month, startup 89Bio emerged with an experimental NASH drug acquired from Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE: TEVA). Others in the race include Viking Therapeutics (NASDAQ: VKTX), Madrigal Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MDGL), and Akero Therapeutics.

Jecure has said that its approach to NASH would be different than others. The company is developing drugs that target the inflammasome, a complex of proteins that play a role in inflammation. The company’s technology is based on research from the laboratory of Ariel Feldstein, a gastroenterologist at the University of California San Diego.

Last year, Jecure emerged with $20 million in Series A financing. Here’s more on Jecure and its approach to NASH.

Sarah de Crescenzo contributed to this report.

Image by Wikimedia user Nephron via a Creative Commons license