Blackstone, Novartis found cardiovascular startup with $250M

Blackstone Life Sciences has committed $250 million to create a cardiovascular startup with Novartis. The biotech, Anthos Therapeutics, begins life with an anti-factor XI (FXI) antibody that Novartis took to the cusp of phase 2 as an antithrombotic therapy.

Private equity giant Blackstone signaled its interest in taking clinical-phase assets off Big Pharma and committing serious money to their development late last year when it acquired Clarus. The takeover merged Clarus’ late-phase investment model with Blackstone’s $440 billion portfolio, positioning the combined company to pump upward of $100 million into development programs.

Now, the combination has birthed Anthos, a startup that has $250 million to run the sort of large, cardiovascular disease clinical trials that are typically well beyond the reach of biotechs. Novartis has licensed a midphase drug to Anthos in return for a minority equity stake in the startup.

Novartis took the drug, MAA868, through preclinical and early-phase development in the belief that inhibiting FXI will reduce cardiovascular events without causing the bleeding risks associated with other anticoagulants. The belief rests on evidence that the coagulation factor plays a bigger role in thrombosis than hemostasis.  

Novartis exited phase 1 with evidence that MAA868 could become the first long-term anticoagulant with once monthly subcutaneous dosing suitable for patients with high bleeding risk, encouraging it to file to start two 600-patient midphase trials early last year. But the Swiss pharma subsequently withdrew the studies before enrolling any patients. 

Responsibility for taking MAA868 forward will now fall on the team Blackstone has put together at Anthos. Blackstone has recruited John Glasspool as CEO. Glasspool led Novartis’ cardiovascular and metabolism franchise during a 10-year stint at the company that ended when he left for Baxter in 2012. Subsequently, Glasspool was part of the executive team that led Baxalta to the Shire takeover.

Glasspool will be supported by Anthos COO Jonathan Freeman, formerly of Merck KGaA, and boards that feature ex-Ariad Pharmaceuticals CEO Paris Panayiotopoulos and senior staff from Novartis’ cardiovascular group. 

The team will oversee a project that will provide an early test of Blackstone’s vision for its life science group. Blackstone’s model is underpinned by the idea that venture-backed biotechs and Big Pharma both face financial constraints in late-phase development, either because they outgrow VC funds or because they have more assets than money. Blackstone wants to address these financial constraints. 

Other companies have cottoned on to the opportunity too. In January, Bain Capital committed $350 million to found Cerevel Therapeutics and take Pfizer’s neuroscience pipeline forward.