Nicox adds to eye-drug pipeline with $120M buyout deal for Aciex

In a deal designed to beef up its pipeline of ophthalmology drugs, France's Nicox has snapped up Boston-based Aciex for $65 million in newly issued shares and up to $55 million in contingent value rights. Those CVRs are structured to pay off Aciex's investors in large part based on the success of Aciex's drug AC-170, which has been in Phase III studies for allergic conjunctivitis.

Nicox execs say they're already prepping for a pre-NDA meeting with the FDA to review late-stage data now in hand on AC-170--a reformulated version of the popular antihistamine Zyrtec--with plans to win approval for the treatment as a topical eye therapy. The French company also lands a new drug for post-operative inflammation and pain, now headed into Phase II. There are some preclinical therapies in the portfolio as well as a collaboration with Portola ($PTLA) on small molecule dual Syk/JAK inhibitors.

Boston-based Aciex is led by executive chairman Les Kaplan, the former head of R&D at Allergan ($AGN). It's been backed by Bay City Capital, HealthCare Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and Akorn.

Nicox set out to make itself over as an ophthalmology drug company after a grievous setback in 2010, when the FDA rejected its NSAID pain drug naproxcinod. An expert committee had voted overwhelmingly against approval and the safety-wary officials at the agency agreed, insisting on a new trial to prove that the drug did not raise blood pressure. Nicox, which is now partnered with Bausch + Lomb, later terminated half its staff and refocused on eye drugs.

Michele Garufi

"This proposed acquisition is another significant step forward in Nicox's strategy of creating an international ophthalmic company built around therapeutics and diagnostics with its own commercial infrastructure in the United States and in the major European markets," says Michele Garufi, the CEO of Nicox, in a statement. "The combination with Aciex would enable Nicox to expand its therapeutic pipeline to target major segments of the ophthalmic sector, including the $816 million US allergic conjunctivitis market1. Together with the expansion of our diagnostics franchise, this acquisition further enhances our ability to create a unique company with a transatlantic commercial presence as well as a diversified proprietary product portfolio."

- here's the release