Jazz bets up to $397M on Aerial's narcolepsy drug

Tiny Aerial BioPharma has found a home for its promising narcolepsy treatment, handing the drug over to Jazz Pharmaceuticals ($JAZZ) for as much as $397 million.

Jazz will fork out $125 million up front and up to $272 million in milestones for ADX-N05, Aerial's mid-stage drug for excessive daytime sleepiness in patients with narcolepsy. In October, the North Carolina biotech unveiled positive results from a 93-patient Phase IIb trial and started looking around for a buyer to take the drug into Phase III. Now, Jazz plans to do just that in short order, leveraging the same expertise it used to develop the narcolepsy treatment Xyrem, Chief Medical Officer Jeffrey Tobias said.

"Given ADX-N05's demonstrated wake-promoting properties in preclinical and clinical studies, including the Phase IIb results, we believe ADX-N05 could also potentially benefit patients whose excessive daytime sleepiness stems from other causes, such as obstructive sleep apnea, where we also intend to pursue Phase III clinical trials," Tobias said in a statement.

Aerial marks the third drug development success for the Research Triangle Park trio Moise Khayrallah, Steve Butts and Gary Bream. In 2006, the three launched Addrenex Pharmaceuticals, maker of ADHD and hypertension treatments, selling it to Shionogi for $29 million three years later. Last year, they flipped Neuronex to Acorda Therapeutics ($ACOR) in a deal worth up to $134 million.

The partners stopped short of an all-out sale with Aerial, choosing to hold on to prostatic acid phosphatase, an early-stage biologic designed to treat acute and chronic pain. The company said it's soon to file an IND for that drug and plans to be ready for a partnership by 2015.

As for Jazz, the latest deal is likely to stoke rumors that the specialty pharma outfit is itself a buyout target. The Irish company has long been the topic of M&A speculation, and analysts say its recent bolt-ons are only making it more attractive to Big Pharma.

- read the statement