J&J deepens its antiviral pipeline with Novira buyout

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is trading an undisclosed sum for private drugmaker Novira Therapeutics, picking up an early-stage treatment for hepatitis B and a handful of antivirals.

With the buyout, expected to close in the fourth quarter, J&J gets NVR 3-778, a Phase II-ready hep B therapy that attacks the virus' capsid protein to disrupt the process of viral reproduction. In Phase Ia results disclosed last year, Novira's lead drug demonstrated itself safe and tolerable in 40 healthy patients, the company said, setting the stage for a Phase II efficacy study. The goal is to take a page from hep C treatments from Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and others by going beyond viral suppression and offering functional cure rates, Novira said.

Beyond NVR 3-778, Novira has a second-generation capsid protein inhibitor now in preclinical development, plus a cccDNA blocker in the lead-optimization stage, the company said.

Lawrence Blatt

For J&J, the deal is an effort to follow through on its $1.75 billion, all-cash acquisition of Alios BioPharma last year, a deal that expanded its antiviral pipeline by adding treatments for respiratory syncytial virus and hep C. Integrating Alios, J&J appointed the company's CEO, Lawrence Blatt, to head its infectious disease business. Now Blatt will inherit Novira's pipeline, steering J&J's antiviral efforts as the company seeks to catch up with its rivals in the field.

"Combining Novira's recent breakthroughs with our vast experience in viral diseases we endeavor to deliver novel medicines for patients suffering from this insidious disease," Blatt said in a statement.

Novira was founded in 1999 and closed a $25 million A round in 2013 with cash from Versant Ventures, 5AM Ventures, Canaan Partners and others.

- read the statement