Novo enters NLRP3 arena, paying Ventus $70M for NASH hopeful

Novo Nordisk is the latest Big Pharma to get in on the NLRP3 action, paying $70 million upfront for the exclusive license for Ventus Therapeutics’ VENT-01 program in peripherally restricted NLRP3 inhibitors targeting nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, chronic kidney disease and other cardiometabolic conditions.

Ventus will be eligible for up to $633 million in milestone payments while also keeping hold of its brain-penetrant NLRP3 inhibitor program, dubbed VENT-02. Both VENT-01 and VENT-02 are yet to enter clinical trials.

NLRP3 inflammasomes are protein complexes that are part of the body’s natural defense against pathogens. They are responsible for activating the inflammatory response, which releases interleukins to combat infection. Diet, environmental stresses or genetics can knock this process off-balance, driving the onset and progression of various conditions such as metabolic, fibrotic, autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases.

“NLRP3 is a biologically relevant target with significant potential across a number of liver, kidney and cardiometabolic diseases,” said Karin Conde-Knape, senior vice president of global drug discovery at Novo Nordisk, in a Sept. 29 release. “Ventus has developed a highly differentiated NLRP3 inhibitor program with best-in-class properties and compelling preclinical results.”

Ventus has one other unpartnered NLRP3 program that’s in an earlier stage of development: VENT-05, designed to target respiratory and rheumatology conditions. The company has found no shortage of investors for its NLRP3 ambitions, closing a $140 million series C round in February.

Novo’s move follows Bristol Myers Squibb’s acquisition of IFM Therapeutics in 2018, the same year Roche subsidiary Genentech bought Jecure Therapeutics for its NLRP3 inhibitors. Novartis then scooped up some NLRP3 assets from IFM subsidiaries the following year, before Roche returned to the game with a 380 million euro upfront payment to acquire Inflazome and its pipeline of oral NLRP3 inhibitors a year ago.