Novo Nordisk bets $725M on heart-focused Corvidia—with the promise of $1.4B more

Novo Nordisk plunked down $725 million for France’s Corvidia Therapeutics and its lead program, an anti-IL-6 antibody for the treatment of heart disease related to kidney disease. The Danish drugmaker aims to start a phase 3 study for the drug in 2021 and, if all goes well, Corvidia’s shareholders could ultimately cash out $2.1 billion.

The antibody, ziltikevimab, is in a phase 2b dose-finding trial to reduce the risk of heart problems in patients with chronic kidney disease who also have atherosclerosis, the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in the artery walls. Having led six cardiovascular outcomes trials for its own medicines, like Victoza and Ozempic, which were both were developed for diabetes, Novo is prepared to move its new antibody into phase 3.

The deal is the biggest one that Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, in his 20 years as Novo Nordisk’s chief science officer, has ever signed.

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“Novo Nordisk has not historically been an M&A company because we think we have the most clever drug discovery and protein engineers. We didn’t need to expand our capability basis beyond our internal labs, historically,” he told Fierce Biotech.

But the company has been working to go beyond its bread and butter of diabetes and obesity meds, inking R&D pacts with academic and industry partners and nabbing a €430 million ($485 million) buyout option for Dutch cardiovascular player Staten Biotechnology.

“As we move into new molecular formats… it becomes natural for us to augment our internal organically driven pipeline with external opportunities like ‘zilti,’” Thomsen said.

The deal comes two and a half years after Novo’s almost-acquisition of Ablynx and its llama-based antibody platform—it had been outbid by Sanofi. This time around Novo took no chances.

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The companies had met at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, but had known each other even before that, Thomsen told Fierce Biotech.

“We learned that the asset was very powerful—we’re talking really low doses not expected to suppress the immune system to a clinically unattractive extent while dampening the inflammatory response in atherosclerotic vessels,” Thomsen said.

“[Corvidia] have already done several clinical trials and we liked a lot what we saw, so that is why the price is what it is,” he added. “And we were probably not the only company that was interested.”