Boehringer grabs Yuhan's NASH prospect in $870M biobucks deal

Boehringer Ingelheim is bolstering its liver disease pipeline with yet another NASH-focused deal. This time, it is licensing a biologic from South Korea’s Yuhan for $40 million upfront and promising up to $830 million in milestone payments. 

The German pharma is picking up a dual agonist against GLP-1—a target of various Type 2 diabetes drugs—and the liver hormone FGF21. It expects the drug to attack nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) on three fronts, namely fat accumulation in the liver, inflammation and scarring, rather than homing in on just one. 

“Boehringer Ingelheim believes that in many cases approaches targeting one of the features of NASH will not be able to achieve the desired resolution of NASH in patients with advanced stages of the disease,” the company said in a statement.  

“This molecule, which is a fusion protein utilizing the long-acting (HyFc) technology of Genexine, has been developed in-house by Yuhan Corporation,” said Yuhan President and CEO Jung Hee Lee in the statement. “Not only is our collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim on this molecule Yuhan’s first external partnership with biologics, it is also the very first out-licensing of biologics targeting NASH from Korea.”

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Boehringer and Yuhan have been longtime partners, with the latter marketing some of Boehringer’s cardiovascular and metabolic drugs in Korea. 

This is the latest in a string of deals Boehringer has struck to build out its NASH pipeline. In 2015, it ponied up $31 million upfront to acquire a phase 1 asset from Australia’s Pharmaxis; that deal could be worth up to $250 million. And in 2017, Boehringer inked two NASH collaborations in as many weeks, committing up to $557 million in total in agreements with Dicerna and MiNA Therapeutics

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It is also Yuhan’s second NASH deal of the year. It picked up $15 million from Gilead in January under a deal that would see the partners conduct preclinical development of two NASH drugs. After that, Gilead will take over clinical development and commercialization outside of South Korea, and Yuhan will stand to reap up to $770 million in milestones.