Inventiva, Kezar sell Asian rights to NASH and autoimmune assets, netting $17M between them

Inventiva and Kezar Life Sciences have found buyers for Asian rights to their lead candidates, collectively bringing in $17 million upfront in return for the chance to develop and sell assets in certain territories. 

France’s Inventiva netted the larger of the two upfronts, receiving $10 million from Hepalys Pharma in exchange for the rights to its nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) candidate lanifibranor in Japan and South Korea. Inventiva has a 30% stake in Hepalys, a new company created by Catalys Pacific, and could receive up to $231 million in milestones as lanifibranor advances through the clinic and on to the market.

The deal allows Inventiva to bolster its bank balance and free itself from the cost of developing the asset in Japan and South Korea while retaining the option to retake control of lanifibranor in the two key Asian markets down the line. Inventiva has an option to buy Hepalys “at a pre-agreed multiple of post-money valuation under certain conditions” plus first refusal if its partner receives an offer to sell the rights.

Hepalys, which has received investment from Mitsubishi UFJ Capital, DBJ Capital and Medipal Innovation Fund, plans to start phase 1 studies to understand the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of the molecule in Japanese patients and healthy volunteers. The new biotech is responsible for funding all the studies needed to support approvals in Japan and South Korea.

Shares in Inventiva climbed 11% to 4.05 euros ($4.31) in Paris. The biotech, which expects (PDF) to report phase 3 data in NASH in 2025, previously licensed rights to the drug candidate in China to Sino Biopharm for $12 million upfront. 

In the other deal, Kezar sold the rights to an autoimmune drug candidate in greater China, South Korea and some Southeast Asian countries to Everest Medicines for $7 million upfront. The agreement, which is worth up to $125.5 million in milestones, sees Everest join Kezar on a phase 2b trial of the molecule, zetomipzomib, in lupus nephritis. The PALIZADE study got underway earlier this year.

“Everest stood out as an ideal regional partner due to its strong nephrology focus and outstanding team with deep global pharma experience. It is clear that they understand zetomipzomib's broad potential and that their team will integrate seamlessly with ours to help drive enrollment in Palizade,” Kezar CEO John Fowler said in a statement. Kezar shares climbed 9% to $1.24 in premarket trading on the Nasdaq.

News of the Kezar and Inventiva deals emerged around the same time that AbCellera shared details of an expansion of its collaboration with Regeneron. After seeing AbCellera’s work on its first four targets, and exercising its option on two completed programs, Regeneron has secured an agreement to add up to four more targets. AbCellera, which strikes early-stage, backloaded deals, shared no financial details of the pact.