Sobi to buy Novimmune R&D assets, lay off 90 staff 

Sobi is exiting drug discovery and early research outside of hematology and immunology, putting 90 people out of work. The Swedish biopharma unveiled the news alongside the CHF 515 million ($518 million) acquisition of immunology R&D capabilities from Novimmune. 

Through the deal and reorganization, Sobi is stepping up its focus on immunology and late-phase development at the expense of early-stage programs in other therapeutic areas. Hematology and immunology already dominate Sobi’s pipeline, but the Swedish biopharma has some activities outside of those areas including phase 1 Sanfilippo A syndrome treatment SOBI003.

Sobi is now looking to divest SOBI003 and preclinical program SOBI006 as part of a shift in its focus toward late-phase hematology and immunology assets. The divestitures are part of a reorganization that Sobi expects to shave up to SEK 300 million ($32 million) off its annual costs. Restructuring costs could hit SEK 200 million as Sobi makes around 90 redundancies. Sobi has about 1,000 employees. 

In the future, Sobi’s R&D group will be centered on two sites in Sweden and Switzerland—where Novimmune is based—from which it will oversee a pipeline of hematology and immunology assets. Sobi will divert the money saved by the cuts into these programs.

"We will continue to increase our R&D spend in late-stage development,” Sobi CEO Guido Oelkers said in a statement. Sobi plans to buy in late-phase assets. 

Oelkers said the structural realignment on hematology and immunology was made possible by the deal with Novimmune. Sobi acquired the global rights to emapalumab, a treatment for the orphan disease primary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, from Novimmune last year. Months later, the drug won FDA approval and is now sold as Gamifant.

The revised deal sees Sobi buy IFNγ inhibitor emapalumab and associated assets outright. For CHF 515 million, most of which Sobi previously committed in the licensing deal, Sobi is acquiring the drug, staff involved in the clinical development of emapalumab, options on two immuno-oncology assets and a FDA priority review voucher it can either use or sell.