Trials of Novartis' Dupixent rival bet scrapped by MorphoSys, Galapagos

Novartis had bet around $1 billion in biobucks on the atopic dermatitis pact. (Novartis)

MorphoSys and Galapagos are cutting off development of their Novartis-backed drug MOR106 in atopic dermatitis.

The cull comes after the three were hit by analysis done in the middle of its phase 2 test, which showed it was likely to fail.

Or, as the partners put in their SEC filing: “The analysis detected a low probability to meet the primary endpoint of the study, defined as the percentage change in the eczema area and severity index (EASI) score. The decision was based on a lack of efficacy and not on safety concerns.”

In the brief update, the companies said that “all studies in atopic dermatitis will be ended” and they will now “explore the future strategy with MOR106.” The companies were hoping to rival big-seller Dupixent from Regeneron and Sanofi.

“We are obviously disappointed with this result with MOR106 in atopic dermatitis. Together with our collaboration partners, we will explore the future strategy with MOR106,” said Dr. Piet Wigerinck, chief scientific officer of Galapagos.

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“Unfortunately, the results from the interim analysis for futility do not support the continuation of the current clinical development of MOR106 in atopic dermatitis” added Dr. Markus Enzelberger, CSO of MorphoSys. “While we are clearly disappointed, we remain committed to the development of MorphoSys’ proprietary early and late-stage drug candidates, such as MOR202 and especially tafasitamab.”

Last summer, the Swiss Big Pharma put down €95 million ($110 million) upfront for the global rights to Galapagos and MorphoSys’ anti-IL-17C antibody MOR106. The deal put Novartis in place to take MOR106 forward in atopic dermatitis and other indications, with €850 million in milestones attached to its path. Depending on what happens next, that could all go up in smoke.

Galapagos and MorphoSys discovered MOR106 through a 50-50 joint R&D pact they formed all the way back in 2008.

The partners focused their efforts on IL-17C in a belief it may act as an amplifier of local inflammation in skin diseases including atopic dermatitis. With phase 1 safety data and preclinical efficacy data in the bag, Galapagos moved the anti-IL-17C antibody into a phase 2 atopic dermatitis trial last May. 

Then, Novartis has stepped in. The Swiss pharma was bankrolling the phase 2 study and a planned phase 1 trial of a subcutaneous formulation of the drug. These have now all been axed.

MorphoSys, which trades in Europe, was down nearly 4% midday (European time) on the news.