Novo Nordisk ties the R&D knot with Genmab, and they're not focused on cancer

Novo Nordisk ($NVO) is jumping on Genmab's antibody development platform in search of two new drug programs--and this time the Danish biotech company will not be focused on another cancer pact.

The deal starts small, seeded with a $2 million upfront that looks quite similar to other deals Genmab has struck with a slate of Big Pharma companies over the years. Going after two undisclosed targets--neither of which are cancer-related--Genmab can earn up to $500 million in milestones if Novo ultimately chooses to keep an exclusive license on what it gets for both programs, or $400 million if it chooses to go the nonexclusive route.

While the two partners are staying quiet about their focus aside from ruling out any cancer applications, Novo has a carefully calibrated pipeline that's closely focused on diabetes and obesity with more work underway on hemophilia and growth disorders.

Genmab CEO Jan van de Winkel

Genmab and Novartis ($NVS) had developed R&D ties even before GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) transferred the oncology rights to ofatumumab to Novartis in a big asset flip. That drug is now marketed as Arzerra in search of an ever-expanding cancer market. Genmab remains partnered with GSK on ofatumumab as an autoimmune drug, with a program in multiple sclerosis alongside other late-stage initiatives. And Genmab and its partner J&J have been making rapid progress with daratumumab for multiple myeloma--with a rolling submission headed to the FDA in what analysts hope will turn into a blockbuster with $4 billion peak sales--while Seattle Genetics focused on an outlicensing pact around solid cancers.

Last fall Genmab handed over an $11 million up front and promising up to $200 million more to get the right to use Seattle Genetics' antibody-drug conjugate technology for its HuMax-AXL program. The program uses an antibody targeted at AXL, with Seattle Genetics' ($SGEN) widely deployed "armed antibody" tech helping with the payload delivery.

Like Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Novo is interested specifically in Genmab's DuoBody platform for developing bispecific antibodies that can grapple with two different targets.

"Today's agreement with Novo Nordisk is an example of how we can leverage access to our unique state-of-the art antibody expertise and collaborations to generate diverse revenue streams in areas beyond cancer," said Jan van de Winkel, the CEO of Genmab, in a statement.

- here's the release