GlaxoSmithKline grabs PhII rheumatoid arthritis drug in $579M MorphoSys deal

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has stepped up with a $579 million deal to partner on a mid-stage rheumatoid arthritis therapy developed by Germany's MorphoSys. GSK is paying about $29.25 million of that upfront and will take over all further R&D and commercialization efforts. MorphoSys will snag a double-digit royalty stream from any sales that might come along, with up to $550 million in milestones.

The object of GlaxoSmithKline's affection is MOR103, an anti-inflammatory therapy that has been tested in healthy volunteers as well as a Phase I/II study. It's also currently in a Phase Ib dose-escalation study for multiple sclerosis. Its shares ($MOR) surged 5% on the news.

Morphosys has been racking up a slate of partnerships with a Who's Who in Big Pharma. Roche ($RHHBY) stepped in on gantenerumab, with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) bagging a couple and Novartis ($NVS) collaborating on at least six programs. The company's antibody drug development efforts have attracted a global following, with its 71 pipeline programs earning considerable attention. MOR103 was its most advanced program that had yet to be partnered.

"This transaction is a major milestone for MorphoSys. Our goal was to secure an agreement with a company having the commitment and expertise to turn MOR103 into a successful drug, and in GSK we have clearly found such a partner. We hope this alliance will result in a significant return on investment for the MOR103 program and to become a major value driver for MorphoSys," commented Dr. Simon Moroney, CEO MorphoSys AG.

- here's the press release