Medivir sells Chinese rights to hepatitis C drug to Ascletis

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Ascletis has added MIV-802 to a pipeline featuring hepatitis C drugs acquired from companies including Roche.

Medivir has offloaded the Chinese rights to its early-stage hepatitis C candidate to Ascletis. The deal continues the retreat from infectious diseases Medivir began after Gilead and others cornered the hepatitis C market.

Ascletis has paid an upfront fee of undisclosed size and committed to milestones to secure the rights to nucleotide polymerase inhibitor MIV-802 in greater China. The candidate will slot into a hepatitis C pipeline that features a protease inhibitor Ascletis picked up from Roche, danoprevir, and an NS5A inhibitor licensed from Presidio Pharmaceuticals, ravidasvir.

Chinese biotech Ascletis has put together the pipeline—and persuaded investors to part with $100 million in a series B—in a bid to bring an interferon-free hepatitis C virus combination therapy to market in its home territory. 

That represents one of the few remaining opportunities left in hepatitis C. Roche picked up the rights to danoprevir from InterMune for $175 million in 2010. But it, like Medivir, saw the market race away from it once Gilead started selling Sovaldi. 

MIV-802 is one of Medivir’s few remaining links to hepatitis C. And, with the deal with Ascletis coming one year after Trek Therapeutics picked up ex-China rights to the drug, that link now only exists in the form of potential milestones. 

Stockholm, Sweden-based Medivir was once at the forefront of hepatitis C research. But the rapid rise of Sovaldi, Harvoni and the rest of the hepatitis C pack made its Johnson & Johnson-partnered drug Olysio yesterday’s news.

Medivir responded by cutting its neuropathic pain unit before going a step further and shedding the infectious disease group on which its reputation once rested. That last move cost 30 people their jobs. And, combined with the sale of its commercial unit, it saw Medivir retool as an R&D-stage biotech primarily focused on cancer.

The Swedish biotech advanced part of its new, cancer-skewed strategy today. Investigators running a phase 1/2 trial combining Medivir’s birinapant and Merck’s Keytruda enrolled the first patient in the study. Medivir sees its bivalent peptidomimetic of the SMAC protein helping Merck’s PD-1 antagonist treat solid tumors.