Novartis hands steering wheel to Erasca for melanoma med in $20M licensing deal

Novartis’ naporafenib is ready for phase 2, but it won’t be heading there with the Swiss Pharma in the driver’s seat. Instead, Erasca has signed a $20 million licensing deal to take the melanoma therapy into mid-stage development.

Erasca will hand over the initial $20 million plus $80 million in shares at a price of $6.50 apiece to Novartis. The Big Pharma is eligible for $80 million cash should naporafenib meet certain regulatory milestones for two indications in the U.S., according to the deal terms. Novartis could also receive $200 million cash with the achievement of certain sales milestones, plus low single-digit percentage royalties on net sales.

Novartis hasn’t had a lot to say about naporafenib, but Erasca said the med fits right into its pipeline. Naporafenib is a pan-RAF inhibitor under development for NRAS mutant melanoma and other RAS/MAPK pathway-driven tumors. The therapy has been administered to over 500 patients in multiple trials, although none of them appear to have been conducted in the U.S. to date, according to the database. 

Erasca, a 2021 Fierce 15 honoree, says the therapy demonstrated clinical proof-of-concept and has favorable safety and tolerability, making it ready for phase 2. The therapy could be used alone or in combination with other immuno-oncology drugs. Three studies are already listed for the med on Erasca’s pipeline from the SEACRAFT program.

CEO Jonathan Lim, M.D., said in a press release that the phase 2 asset gets the company one step closer to becoming a late-stage company. With a specialty in RAS/MAPK pathway-driven cancers, Erasca has a deep pipeline of assets mostly in solid tumors. Naporafenib is now the most advanced, but ERAS-007 isn’t too far behind in a trio of phase 1b/2 studies called HERKULES.

Meanwhile, Erasca priced a $100 million equity offering with unnamed healthcare investors. The cash will be used to support its pipeline candidates in the clinic.