Ferring Pharma snags a microbiome platform with Rebiotix buy

Ferring Pharmaceuticals is going full speed ahead into the microbiome space with its acquisition of Rebiotix and its Microbiota Restoration Therapy platform. The lead candidate is a non-antibiotic treatment that prevents recurrent C. difficile infection delivering healthy, live, human-derived microbes to the gut. 

The asset, dubbed RBX-2660, is a fecal microbiota transplant that is currently in phase 3 trials. It works by repopulating the gut microbiome—the transplanted microbes outcompete C. diff, preventing it from growing and forcing it out of the gut, said Rebiotix CEO Lee Jones in a previous interview with FierceBiotech. 

RBX-2660 has scored a trifecta of FDA designations—fast track, breakthrough and orphan drug—and could potentially become the first human microbiome product approved anywhere in the world. But Ferring is playing the long game. The Swiss company has been investing in the microbiome space over the past few years, both through partnerships and research platforms, said Ferring CSO Per Falk. These include a license agreement with MyBiotics for its microbiome-based therapeutics for women's health and a research collaboration with MetaboGen to develop microbiome-based treatment for intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.

"This is a long-term investment for us. We see it more as an R&D investment that creates a complete, mature microbiome platform rather than product acquisition from which we are looking to get short-term financial gains," he said. 

"We will grow from this rather than say it all hinges on the success of the front-runner project."

The pair declined to provide financial details of the acquisition, saying that the pair had been talking for many years about a deal. Rebiotix will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ferring and will maintain its name, structure, location and people.

"In the short term, nothing potentially changes for us, other than we have the access and resources of much larger company behind us," Jones said. Ferring reported €1.9 billion ($2.4 billion) in 2017 revenues and has 6,500 employees worldwide and subsidiaries in nearly 60 countries. 

Rebiotix is developing RBX-2660 for other indications, including pediatric ulcerative colitis, elimination of vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), multidrug-resistant UTI and hepatic encephalopathy. It is also working on a non-frozen, lyophilised oral capsule formulation for recurrent C. diff: RBX7455. 

An oral treatment would be a game-changer—patients could pick it up at the pharmacy and treat themselves, rather than having to visit their healthcare provider, Jones said in a previous interview.