AstraZeneca licenses Ionis’ clinical-phase antisense NASH drug

AstraZeneca has licensed a NASH candidate from Ionis. The Big Pharma is paying $30 million upfront to pick up the rights to the program and take it into the clinic.

Ionis advanced the asset through target validation and into development with the strategic support of AstraZeneca, which secured a front-row seat on its progress through a cardiovascular, metabolic and renal disease deal it struck in 2015.

The drug, like one previously licensed by AstraZeneca, features antisense technologies intended to improve affinity chemistry and cell-specific targeting.

“This combination provides us with drugs that are substantially more potent than either Generation 2.5 or LICA alone, and supports administration of infrequent, very low doses, and even enables the potential for oral dosing," Ionis COO Brett Monia said in a statement.

Beyond that, little is known publicly about the program. There are no online references to the drug, IONIS-AZ6-2.5-LRx, from before news of the licensing deal broke and neither Ionis nor AstraZeneca has disclosed its target. 

Ionis has a long-standing interest in NASH, though. The biotech’s Akcea-partnered angiopoietin-like 3 protein drug AKCEA-ANGPTL3-LRx is currently undergoing phase 2 testing in patients with NASH and other conditions to assess its effect on endpoints including liver fat. A phase 2 trial of another Ionis drug, IONIS-DGAT2Rx, is also using liver fat as an endpoint. The IONIS-DGAT2Rx trial is enrolling type 2 diabetics at risk of NASH. 

By offloading its latest NASH drug, Ionis has landed a $30 million upfront fee and a chance to pull in up to $300 million in milestones. If IONIS-AZ6-2.5-LRx comes to market, AstraZeneca will pay Ionis tiered royalties that top out in the low teens.

The financial terms are the same as for the last Ionis drug licensed by AstraZeneca. That deal gave AstraZeneca the rights to the kidney disease candidate IONIS-AZ5-2.5Rx, now known as AZD2373.