Novartis snares Corthera heart drug in $620M buyout

In another sign that 2009 will end with a frenzy of new drug deals, Novartis is putting up $120 million to buy San Mateo, CA-based Corthera, securing complete control of the promising heart drug Relaxin and committing up to $500 million in milestones for the cardiovascular drug's ultimate success.

The $620 million deal underscores Novartis' keen interest in expanding its work in cardiovascular disease. With its high blood pressure med Diovan facing the first wave of generic competition next year--and the erosion of sales for the $6 billion franchise--Novartis needs new drugs like Relaxin, which is in late-stage trials.

Analyst Andrew Weiss estimates potential sales of the drug--which is being studied as a treatment for acute decompensated heart failure--at $1 billion a year, but he's cautious about Relaxin's ability to win an approval. Novartis, though, is bullish.

"Despite a range of current treatment options, acute decompensated heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization in people over age 65 and remains a major clinical challenge with a high and increasing incidence and substantial morbidity and mortality," says Trevor Mundel, MD, global head of development at Novartis AG, in a statement. "Relaxin will be an important addition to our expanding pipeline of novel development projects targeting cardiovascular disease."

- check out the Novartis release
- here's the report from Dow Jones