Roivant bags AstraZeneca drug in latest bid

Vivek Ramaswamy
Roivant's Vivek Ramaswamy (Roivant)

Roivant Sciences has licensed a deprioritized investigational candidate from AstraZeneca. The deal gives Roivant, Axovant’s parent company, another part-developed, unloved drug to try to turn into a star.

Neither company is saying much about the deal. Roivant said it will develop the candidate in a new therapeutic area that is outside of AstraZeneca’s core fields of focus. But the identity of the drug and stage of development to which it advanced within AstraZeneca are unknown. 

Roivant’s subsidiaries work across neurology, dermatology, rare diseases, urology, women’s health and endocrinology. That list has little overlap with AstraZeneca, which mainly works on oncology, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, infection, neuroscience and respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity conditions.

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The upshot is there are plenty of therapeutic areas that are in Roivant’s wheelhouse and outside of AstraZeneca’s core areas of focus. Roivant, flush from its $1.1 billion financing, could also use the drug to move into a new therapeutic area. 

Roivant is making an upfront payment and committing to development milestones and royalties to gain global rights to the drug. Neither company has placed a number on any of these parts of the deal.

Whatever the details, the core nature of the deal and the companies involved are unsurprising.  

Roivant is one of a clutch of drug developers looking to strike gold in the backwaters of Big Pharma pipelines. Axovant, the Alzheimer’s biotech that turned a $5 million GlaxoSmithKline castoff into a $315 million IPO, was the focal point of Roivant’s strategy. But, with that drug flaming out in phase 3, attention is shifting to what Roivant is doing with the close to $2 billion it has raised to date.

AstraZeneca is a likely candidate to end up on the other side of the deal table from Roivant. The Big Pharma, like its peers, has more prospects than capacity, particularly for somewhat speculative development of old drugs in new indications. And it has a history of partly or wholly offloading any portfolio drugs and pipeline prospects it sees as peripheral to its plans or high-risk bets.