Protalix flips its Gaucher drug to Pfizer for $46M in R&D cash

Israeli drug developer Protalix BioTherapeutics ($PLX) is backing away from its sole approved drug, selling the majority rights to partner Pfizer ($PFE) and pledging to invest the proceeds in its pipeline.

Under the deal, Protalix is handing Pfizer full commercial rights to the Gaucher disease treatment Elelyso in all countries but Brazil in exchange for $36 million in cash. Pfizer has also agreed to trade $10 million for about 5.6 million shares of Protalix. With the combined new funding, Protalix plans to invest in the development of rare disease treatments derived from plant cells.

Elelyso became the first plant-derived treatment to win FDA approval back in 2012, and its potential success on the Gaucher market led to speculation Pfizer might buy its partner outright for as much as $1 billion. But the drug never caught on commercially, bringing in just $15.8 million in the first half of this year after struggling to compete with enzyme-replacement therapies from Sanofi ($SNY) and Shire ($SHPG).

Now Protalix is moving on, working through Phase II with a Fabry disease treatment called PRX-102 that the company believes can one-up enzyme treatments already on the market. Behind that are PRX-106, an oral TNF blocker Protalix plans to get into Phase II by year's end, and the preclinical PRX-110, an inhalable treatment for cystic fibrosis.

- read the statement

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