Novartis snags preclinical hep C drug in $440M Enanta pact

Novartis ($NVS) has stepped up to the plate in the big hepatitis C game, signing a $440 million pact to license a preclinical NS5A drug from Enanta Pharmaceuticals.

As part of the deal, Watertown, MA-based Enanta will get $34 million upfront, $406 million on a full slate of milestones, potential double-digit royalties on EDP-239 and some fresh backing on its related discovery work in the field. Novartis is taking on all development costs for the program.

"We believe EDP-239 has great potential as a potent ingredient in combination drug therapy, and our preclinical studies have demonstrated high potency against multiple genotypes of the virus, excellent safety profile and a preclinical pharmacokinetic profile amenable to once-a-day dosing in humans," says Enanta CEO Jay Luly, Ph.D., in a statement.

The NS5A target is a hot one in hep C. Developers at this stage of the game are looking for treatments that have a broad effect across all three genotypes. They also want to find new cocktails that can beat down the virus and eliminate any signs of it without having to resort to interferon. That Holy Grail in R&D is the ticket to a multibillion-dollar market, a prize that has attracted a wide group of biopharma players.

- here's the Enanta press release