Novartis, Voyager launch another gene therapy mission with $100M upfront deal

Novartis will launch another gene therapy satellite with Voyager Therapeutics in a $100 million upfront deal to develop candidates in Huntington’s disease and spinal muscular atrophy.

The total deal value could rise to a meaty (but heavily back-loaded) $1.2 billion in preclinical, development, regulatory and sales milestones, with royalties down the line, according to a Tuesday press release. Novartis is making a $20 million purchase of newly issued equity in the biotech as part of the deal.

For its money, Novartis gets access to Voyager’s Tracer capsids and other intellectual property, and the companies will collaborate on a preclinical candidate in Huntington’s. Voyager will continue with preclinical development before the Big Pharma takes over clinical development and commercialization for the program.

The companies know each other well, having been working together on adeno-associated virus (AAV) capsids since March 2022, with Novartis opting in on two out of three candidates in March 2023. Now, a new deal has been struck to find new approaches for the two devastating diseases.

SMA is familiar territory for Novartis, which has the approved gene therapy Zolgensma for the disease, which affects the motor neurons and impairs voluntary muscle control.

Voyager CEO Al Sandrock, M.D., Ph.D., said the deal strengthens the biotech’s balance sheet and extends its cash runway into mid-2026. The company last reported cash on hand of $252.9 million as of the third quarter of 2023, which was expected to last into mid-2025.

The deal also bolstered Voyager's shares as the first day of trading was set to begin. The company's price rose 26% pre-market to $10.71, compared to $8.44 at close at the end of 2023.  

The original 2022 deal included a $54 million upfront payment and $300 million in potential payments down the line for each program Novartis chose to move forward with. When the pharma opted in on the two programs, Voyager received $25 million and kicked off the potential to earn up to $600 million later in milestones.