UPDATED: Gilead bags early-stage NASH drug in $1.2B Nimbus deal

Gilead ($GILD) is anteing up a $400 million upfront payment to buy a Phase I NASH drug from Nimbus Therapeutics, a Bill Gates-backed drug discoverer based in Cambridge, MA. And it's backing the deal with another $800 million in milestones.

Gilead gets Nimbus's Acetyl-CoA Carboxylase (ACC) inhibitor program in the acquisition of a subsidiary named Nimbus Apollo, which includes the drug NDI-010976. The treatment is being tested in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and has potential as a therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma as well as other diseases.

The news comes just weeks ahead of Phase I data for the drug, which is aimed at throwing up a hurdle in the cascade of biologic events that leads to fatty liver disease, a condition that has attracted some widespread interest from big biotechs as well as big pharma. Gilead's pipeline lists four separate programs for NASH in early and mid-stage development.

The drug prevents the production of key lipids in the liver and in animal models of the disease, reducing hepatic fat content, inflammation and fibrosis--or scarring. And one of the company's original backers suggested that there was broad interest in acquiring the drug, which helps explain the hefty upfront payment involved.

"Nimbus is presenting the program's Phase 1 clinical data at EASL 2015 in Barcelona in a few weeks," noted Atlas partner Bruce Booth in a blog post, "including the dramatic reduction in de novo lipogenesis in our proof-of-mechanism study. The robust quality of the '976 program, and the broader ACC franchise, was clearly what drove the interest we've seen from potential partners over the past year."

The deal marks the second major pact for an Atlas company in a matter of days. Bristol-Myers Squibb completed a deal just days ago to buy out Padlock Therapeutics and its autoimmune pipeline in a $600 million buyout.

Bill Gates

The computational chemistry experts at Nimbus attracted the attention of Bill Gates early on. Launched in 2011, the biotech snagged a $24 million Series A from the tech mogul, Atlas Venture and the VC wings of Eli Lilly ($LLY) and GlaxoSmithKline. A $43 million round landed a year ago, followed by a licensing pact with Genentech for an interleukin-1 receptor-associated kinase 4 (IRAK4) inhibitor program.

Nimbus was named a Fierce 15 company in 2013.

"The acquisition of Nimbus' ACC-inhibitor program represents a timely and important opportunity to accelerate Gilead's ongoing efforts to address unmet needs in NASH," said Gilead research chief Norbert Bischofberger in a statement. "These molecules will complement and further strengthen Gilead's pipeline and capabilities to advance a broad clinical program in NASH that includes compounds targeting multiple key pathways involved in the pathogenesis of the disease."

- here's the release