Novartis ($NVS) is acquiring more of stem cell partner Gamida Cell but steering away from buying the company outright as it blueprints a Phase III trial for its blood cancer therapy.
The Swiss pharma giant is paying $5 million up front for another 2.5% of Gamida equity and agreeing to invest another $10 million by the end of 2017 if certain conditions are met. The financing follows a 2014 deal in which Novartis paid $35 million for a 15% stake in the Israeli biotech.
Novartis has been supporting Gamida's work for years but has twice passed on an option to acquire the company en masse for up to $600 million. In June, Gamida majority shareholder Elbit Imaging disclosed that Novartis had walked away from its right to buy it for $165 million up front and $435 million in milestones. Novartis passed on a similar opportunity in 2014.
Gamida has moved forward undaunted, now planning to launch a Phase III trial for its NiCord in mid-2016. NiCord is a stem cell treatment derived from umbilical cord blood and designed to work in lieu of bone marrow transplants for patients with leukemia and lymphoma. The company is also at work on a preclinical project focused on the potential of so-called natural killer cells in oncology, plus a version of NiCord for nonmalignant blood diseases, including sickle cell.
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