Gilead adds another shot on the NASH goal with $785M Yuhan pact

Gilead
Gilead is adding to its growing NASH pipeline. (Gilead China)

While hitting the headlines for its big spending in cancer R&D of late, Gilead is still keeping one eye on its roots in liver disease, penning an early research pact in NASH.

Gilead already has its hands in the NASH pie as it works on tie-ups with Nimbus, Scholar Rock and its own internal programs. It has, however, like many in the field, seen setbacks in trials, although clearly not enough to see them walk away from a market that could be worth tens of billions in the next decade.

It now adds a new program from South Korean biotech Yuhan to its pipeline, although exact details are thin on the ground. In a brief statement, the companies said Gilead buys into “small molecules against two undisclosed targets in all countries, with the exception of the Republic of Korea where Yuhan will retain certain commercialization rights. Yuhan and Gilead will jointly conduct preclinical research, and Gilead will be responsible for global clinical development. Gilead will also be responsible for commercialization worldwide, outside of Yuhan’s rights in the Republic of Korea.”

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Yuhan gets just $15 million upfront but could see as much as $770 million in biobucks.

This is all early-stage work, and Gilead, alongside Allergan, Genfit, and Intercept Pharmaceuticals, are all more focused on their later stage efforts, as together they are leading the pack in getting the first fatty liver disease drug to market, with most due to start delivering phase 3 data this year.

RELATED: With Gilead and rivals deep in phase 3, FDA unveils draft guidance on NASH drug development

It’s still a high-risk area, given the setbacks almost all have faced in trials and issues around diagnostics and whether a medical treatment is strictly needed, given that many patients respond well to diet and exercise to reduce fat in the liver in the earlier stages of the disease.

But it is a growing problem that can lead to liver scarring and later liver failure, and is expected to become the largest factor for liver transplants by the middle of the century. While estimates vary, some analysts see the market topping out at around $35 billion a year at peak, though it looks like it will be a crowded market.

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