Incyte scoops up preclinical biotech to widen footprint in vitiligo

Less than three months after nabbing the first-ever FDA approval to treat vitiligo, Incyte is looking to widen its therapeutic footprint in the pigmentation disease.

The company is buying Villaris Therapeutics, a preclinical biotech developing a monoclonal antibody to tackle the condition, in a deal worth potentially more than $1.4 billion. Incyte is coughing up $70 million in upfront cash with $1.36 billion up for grabs in potential biobucks, according to a release Monday. At the core of the deal is Villaris’ anti-IL-15Rβ monoclonal antibody, auremolimab, which is slated to enter the clinic in 2023. 

Of the biobucks on the table, $1.05 billion are linked to sales milestones, with another $310 million tied to clinical development and regulatory markers. 

The asset-focused M&A is a clear move by Incyte to stay ahead of the curve on vitiligo treatment development. Vitiligo is a condition in which the skin loses its pigmentation cells, resulting in discoloration. In July, the company’s already-approved Opzelura expanded its use, nabbing the first-ever green light to treat repigmentation in patients with the disease. Opzelura had already been approved to treat atopic dermatitis.

In the company's release, Incyte CEO Hervé Hoppenot said the buy “compliments [Incyte’s] current portfolio.” Villaris was founded back in 2019 by John Harris, M.D., Ph.D., professor and dermatology chair at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, and spun out thanks to buy-in from investment firm Medicxi. The company’s CEO is Andrea Epperly, Ph.D., an industry veteran who cut her teeth on GSK’s business development team. 

Incyte is still years away from reaping any commercial benefit from auremolimab; the med is not expected to launch into the clinic until 2023. Even then, it’s difficult to say how much of a market will be available. When Incyte nabbed approval of Opzelura in July, analysts at SVB Leerink forecasted peak sales of $182 million in the U.S. Perhaps greater rewards will lie elsewhere, as Incyte teased that the deal allows the company to develop auremolimab for “other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.”