Novartis tags Molecular Partners for next radioligand play in $560M biobucks deal

Novartis is padding out its radioligand portfolio with yet another deal, this time a partnership with Molecular Partners to develop cancer candidates that target tumors for $20 million upfront plus $560 million in biobucks.

The Swiss Pharma has been making a number of deals in the radioligands field, so this one with Molecular Partners will slide right into that lane.

Radioligand therapies combine a small molecule or peptide that targets a protein found in cancer cells with a radioactive material that blocks tumor growth by damaging DNA. Radiotherapy is not a new idea in cancer, but Novartis is essentially seeking to boost this age-old treatment in a more precise way and avoid damaging healthy cells.

The jewel in the crown of Novartis’ radioligand portfolio is 177Lu-PSMA-617, which was found to add four months to the lives of patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. The Swiss drugmaker picked up that therapy in its $2.1 billion buyout of Endocyte back in 2018.

RELATED: ASCO: Novartis backs up $2.1B Endocyte buyout with prostate cancer data

Novartis and Molecular Partners will work together on a new class of custom-built proteins called DARPin-conjugated radioligand therapies, according to a Tuesday statement. Molecular Partners will use its expertise to quickly identify potential candidates that can target specific tumor-associated antigens. Novartis, meanwhile, will bring its expertise in radioligands.

“The marriage of these two technologies is designed to enable us to target radioligands directly to tumor cells anywhere in the body, with the goal of improving and extending patients’ lives,” said Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

Novartis will be responsible for all clinical development and commercialization activities. The company will pay up to $560 million in milestone payments plus royalties to Molecular Partners later on.

Molecular Partners is the latest to join Novartis on its radioligand quest. The Swiss pharma also signed a deal with iTheranostics, a subsidiary of Sofie Biosciences, in March.

While Novartis is the biggest name in the radioligand game, plenty of small biotechs are exploring ways to boost radiotherapy. RayzeBio raised $108 million in June to develop more targeted radiation treatments.