Jazz locks arms with GSK spinout Autifony, putting up $771M to form neuroscience discovery pact

GSK spinout Autifony Therapeutics has drummed up a collaboration with Jazz Pharmaceuticals, securing up to $770.5 million to discover and develop drug candidates against two ion channel targets associated with neurological disorders. 

Autifony secured pre-candidate voltage-gated ion channel modulator compounds from GSK when it split off from the mothership more than a decade ago. The British biotech continued to invest in ion channel R&D after going solo, building up expertise in biology that is critical to the activity of nerves and muscles. Internally, Autifony is going after diseases including fragile X syndrome and rare forms of epilepsy.

Jazz sees the capabilities as a good fit for its ambitions to treat neurological diseases. The interest has led Jazz to pay an upfront fee of publicly undisclosed size to work with Autifony on candidates against two ion channel targets. Once milestones are factored in, the deal could be worth up to $770.5 million.

The early-stage nature of the project suggests most of that cash is years from landing in Autifony’s bank account, if it ever does. Jazz has tasked Autifony with leading drug discovery and preclinical development. Once a project completes preclinical, Jazz will take over for human trials and beyond. 

If the alliance delivers preclinical programs to Jazz, the candidates will slot into a pipeline that is split between neuroscience and oncology prospects. Both sides of the pipeline benefit from Jazz’s readiness to write checks, with Sumitomo Pharma’s narcolepsy drug candidate DSP-0187 among the neuroscience molecules bought in by the business development team in recent years. 

Jazz expressed an appetite for more deals, from large transactions down, over the summer. Bloomberg recently reported that the serial buyer Jazz is considering becoming a seller, with management said to be talking to advisers about breaking up the business and offloading specific assets. CEO Bruce Cozadd later poured cold water on the chat, telling investors Jazz’s Irish status means it would be “forced to clarify publicly if there's something actually going on in pretty short order.” That didn’t happen. 

Autifony was spun out of GSK in 2011. Initially focused on age-related hearing loss, the biotech expanded into schizophrenia and raised cash from backers including Pfizer’s VC wing and SV Life Sciences to fund its plans. Boehringer Ingelheim gave up its option on Autifony’s lead prospect, a Kv3.1 modulator, in 2020, but the biotech continues to study the molecule in patients with fragile X syndrome.