Novartis grabs lead IL-17 program as Ensemble adds another marquee deal

Just a few weeks after closing a research pact on rare diseases with Alexion ($ALXN), Cambridge, MA-based Ensemble Therapeutics has come away from the deal table with a major league partner for their in-house IL-17 agonist program. Novartis ($NVS) is in-licensing the anti-inflammatory work, Ensemble's most advanced preclinical program, adding another marquee name to the biotech's roster of collaborators.

Novartis always likes to keep its deal terms close to its vest, and it isn't relenting now. The Big Pharma company is paying an undisclosed upfront and a secret lineup of milestones for the work. And the multinational will also fork over research support payments during the collaboration as well. Ensemble has now collected a group of top collaborators which also includes Pfizer ($PFE), Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Genentech.

These companies have come calling as Ensemble proselytized its work on mid-sized molecules--"ensemblins"--that are billed to do orally what biologics accomplish only after being injected into a patient. The big idea here is that Ensemble has figured out a new approach to synthetically create an easy-to-take regimen of therapies that have been beyond the reach of the industry. It's primarily focused on elusive protein-protein and protein-peptide interactions, with a big interest in oncology and immuno-inflammatory diseases. And it's still very much early-on in terms of their clinical development work.

The company has been in talks with Novartis regarding the IL-17 program since last fall.

Ensemble CEO Mike Taylor

"They're the leaders of the IL-17 field," Ensemble CEO Mike Taylor tells FierceBiotech. "Having the opportunity to partner with them is the best opportunity to maximize the value of the program over the long-term."

Last month Novartis boasted that it's anti-IL-17 treatment, secukinumab, beat out Enbrel in a head-to-head psoriasis study. This new deal with Ensemble offers a complementary oral companion to an injectable Novartis recently tapped as one of 14 leading drug hopefuls in the late-stage pipeline. In addition to psoriasis, Novartis plans to release more late-stage results on secukinumab for arthritic conditions next year. And the pharma giant told investors two years ago that secukinumab was a blockbuster contender, with its first regulatory filing slated for later this year. 

"We have a pretty full plate now," says Taylor, who's been able to rely on a steady stream of collaboration cash to operate the company.

- here's the press release