GSK licenses Ionis' midphase hepatitis B program for $25M

GlaxoSmithKline has licensed Ionis Pharmaceuticals’ antisense hepatitis B medicines for $25 million. The deal, which is part of the long-running relationship between the companies, comes shortly after GSK achieved clinical proof of concept for the Ionis-partnered hepatitis B program. 

GSK began working with Ionis in 2010 and, while it gave away Tegsedi and another asset in 2017, has retained ties to the antisense specialist over that period. The 2010 deal gave GSK a chance to license assets covered by the six-program agreement once they reached phase 2 proof of concept.

Having recently passed that milestone, GSK has exercised its option on the hepatitis B virus program, handing over $25 million upfront and committing to more than $200 million in milestones in return for the rights. GSK will now take full responsibility for all subsequent activities and costs.

Data from the proof-of-concept trial are slated for publication at an upcoming medical meeting. Until then, limited data are available to back up Ionis’ belief that its program represents an advance over existing treatments for hepatitis B, such as Gilead Sciences' Viread and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Baraclude.

“Unlike currently marketed medicines that inhibit viral replication without clearing the virus, our HBV medicine has the potential to also clear the virus, which can provide patients with a functional cure,” Ionis Chief Operating Officer Brett Monia said on a conference call with investors earlier this month.

Ionis thinks its approach can get to the root of why a hepatitis B infection turns into chronic disease. Rather than blocking viral replication, Ionis sought to target multiple hepatitis B transcripts, giving it a shot at eliminating the virus completely.

Working with GSK, Ionis developed two candidates around that idea. The second asset uses Ionis’ ligand-conjugated antisense technology to enhance delivery to the target tissue and, in doing so, dial up drug potency. Ionis said GSK has licensed its “antisense medicines,” suggesting the Big Pharma has gained the rights to both assets.