USA – Ventus Therapeutics, a small bioteh based in the US has signed a licensing deal with the Danish drug giant Novo Nordisk to advance and market several drug assets with potential applications in a range of cardiometabolic disorders.

Novo Nordisk will pay Ventus US$70 million upfront and provide funding for research and development.

The privately held biotech, which was founded in 2019 by Harvard Medical School Professor Hao Wu and Yale University Professor Richard Flavell and others, could receive an additional US$633 million, plus royalty payments if the program meets clinical, regulatory, and marketing goals.

Ventus, which splits its operations between Waltham, Massachusetts and Montreal, discovers its drugs by using computational analysis to understand the structure of proteins and find ways to hit targets thought to be undruggable.

The biotech’s NLRP3-blocking drugs are designed to stop the formation of NLRP3 inflammasomes, protein complexes that regulate the immune system and are involved in the intracellular signaling that triggers inflammatory responses.

Inflammation caused by aberrant activation of this protein complex is associated with multiple conditions.

Though Novo Nordisk’s portfolio is heavily weighted toward diabetes, that’s changing. Earlier this month, Novo Nordisk reached a US$1.1 billion deal to buy Forma Therapeutics, a company whose lead drug candidate, etavopivat, is in Phase 2/3 testing in sickle cell disease.

That deal followed last year’s US$3.3 billion acquisition of Dicerna Therapeutics, a developer of therapies based on an approach called RNA interference.

The two companies were already partners in the development of RNAi drugs for NASH, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

When Ventus closed its US$100 million Series B financing last year, and since then the has been exploring partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies.

Now the deal with Novo Nordisk puts Ventus’ lead NLRP3 program in the hands of a global company with the resources to develop it for multiple disorders.

It also puts Novo Nordisk in competition with others that are developing NLRP3-blocking drugs. Roche entered the space through its 2018 acquisition of Jecure Therapeutics.

In 2019, Novartis paid US$310 million up front to acquire IFM Tre, a subsidiary of IFM Therapeutics that was developing an NLRP3 inhibitor for NASH.

Meanwhile, Ventyx Biosciences is preparing to begin clinical testing of an NLRP3 inhibitor for neurodegenerative disorders.

Ventus raised a US$140 million Series C round of financing earlier this year as it prepared to advance its lead programs, including the now partnered NLRP3 inhibitor, into the clinic.

The company has other NLRP3 programs. The deal with Novo Nordisk allows Ventus to keep rights for its NLRP3 inhibitors in development for certain other inflammatory and respiratory diseases.

The biotech also retains rights to its brain-penetration NLRP3 program, which is in development for addressing neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.

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