Novartis buys sickle cell player Selexys in $665M deal

Novartis has exercised its option to buy sickle cell disease player Selexys Pharmaceuticals for up to $665 million. The consummation of the deal follows the publication of Phase II data linking Selexys’ anti-P-selectin antibody to a significant drop in the rate of sickle cell-related pain crises.

Selexys granted Novartis the buyout option in in 2012, at which time the Oklahoma-based biotech had just put together a $23 million Series A to fund a Phase II trial. Now, having reviewed data from the Phase II study, Novartis has decided to add Selexys’ SelG1 to its late-phase hematology pipeline.

The Phase II enrolled 198 people with sickle cell disease and randomized them to receive one of two doses of SelG1 or a placebo. In the cohort that received the high dose of SelG1, the median annual rate of pain crises clocked in at 1.6. The rate in the placebo arm was 3.0. That 47% difference was enough for the study to meet its primary endpoint.

SelG1 also came good against a clutch of secondary endpoints, including time to first and second pain crises. The researchers who ran the study will present the data at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting next month, while Novartis is looking to push on development of SelG1.

"Sickle cell disease affects millions of people around the world and there are limited therapies available for treatment of vaso-occlusive pain crises, a very common complication of the disease," said Bruno Strigini, CEO of Novartis Oncology, in a statement. "With this acquisition, Novartis is able to leverage its leadership in hematology research to advance development of a potential new treatment option for patients living with this debilitating condition."

The deal gives Novartis a beachhead in a therapeutic area being pursued by companies including Global Blood Therapeutics, although SelG1 and GBT440 are aiming to serve different parts of the niche. While anti-sickling agents such as GBT440 seek to act on the mechanism behind the disease, SelG1 is designed to treat symptoms of the condition.

Having persuaded Novartis of the merits of this approach, some of the Selexys team are already back in the biotech game. Russell Rother, the former COO of Selexys, is now working at Tetherex Pharmaceuticals, a stealthy biotech based out of Oklahoma. Tetherex, like Selexys, has secured funding from MPM Capital.