Inventiva and Kezar partner with Asian biotechs to advance NASH and lupus drugs

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In a strategic move, Inventiva and Kezar Life Sciences have successfully secured buyers for the Asian rights to their lead drug candidates, collectively amassing an upfront sum of $17 million. These agreements grant partners the opportunity to develop and market these assets within specified territories.

French biopharmaceutical company Inventiva has secured the lion’s share of the upfront payment, totaling $10 million, from Hepalys Pharma. In exchange, Hepalys Pharma gains the rights to Inventiva’s nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) candidate, lanifibranor, in Japan and South Korea. This collaboration also holds significant potential for Inventiva, as the company, with its 30% stake in Hepalys, stands to receive up to $231 million in milestone payments as lanifibranor progresses through clinical development and towards commercialization.

This strategic partnership enables Inventiva to fortify its financial position and alleviate the expenses associated with lanifibranor’s development in the Japanese and South Korean markets. Notably, Inventiva retains the option to reassume control of lanifibranor in these pivotal Asian markets under certain conditions, with an option to acquire Hepalys at a predetermined valuation multiple after funding rounds, and a first-refusal right if Hepalys receives offers for the asset’s rights.

Hepalys Pharma, backed by investment from Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, DBJ Capital, and Medipal Innovation Fund, is set to initiate phase 1 studies to assess lanifibranor’s pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in Japanese patients and healthy volunteers. The responsibility for funding all necessary studies to support regulatory approvals in Japan and South Korea lies with the newly formed biotech company. Following this development, shares in Inventiva experienced an 11% surge, reaching 4.05 euros ($4.31) on the Paris stock exchange. Notably, the biotech anticipates reporting phase 3 data on NASH in 2025 and had previously licensed the drug candidate’s rights in China to Sino Biopharm for an upfront payment of $12 million.

In a separate transaction, Kezar Life Sciences has successfully sold the rights to its autoimmune drug candidate in greater China, South Korea, and select Southeast Asian countries to Everest Medicines, generating an upfront payment of $7 million. This partnership, potentially valued at up to $125.5 million in milestone payments, involves Everest Medicines joining Kezar in a phase 2b trial of the molecule zetomipzomib, specifically for lupus nephritis. The PALIZADE study commenced earlier this year.

“Everest stood out as an ideal regional partner due to its strong nephrology focus and outstanding team with deep global pharma experience. It is clear that they understand zetomipzomib’s broad potential and that their team will integrate seamlessly with ours to help drive enrollment in Palizade.” 

– John Fowler, Kezar CEO

Kezar shares climbed 9% to $1.24 in premarket trading on the Nasdaq. These agreements involving Inventiva and Kezar coincided with AbCellera’s expansion of its collaboration with Regeneron. AbCellera, known for its early-stage, backloaded deals, disclosed an expansion involving up to four additional targets, following Regeneron’s satisfaction with their work on the initial four targets and the exercise of options on two completed programs. Specific financial terms of this pact were not disclosed.

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