4-Person Biotech Pens R&D Deal Worth $1 Billion With Drug Giant Novartis AG


April 7, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Swiss-based Novartis exercised an option to in-license ECF843 for dry eye and other ophthalmic indications from a four-person biotech company, Lubris BioPharma, based in the Boston area. Although financial details were not disclosed, a source told The Boston Business Journal that after upfront payments and potential milestones, it could be worth $1 billion.

ECF843 is described as “recombinant human lubricin (rh-Lubricin) protein.” Lubricin is a naturally-occurring protein in the human body, which, as John Carroll describes in Endpoints News, “is found just about wherever two tissues in the bodies meet.” Lubris isolated and industrialized it.

In a Phase II clinical trial in 40 patients with moderate to severe dry eye, ECF843 was tested against standard therapy, sodium hyaluronate (HA). Carroll writes, “Symptoms of the disease dropped 70 percent from baseline and CEO Ed Truitt tells me that when the study transitioned to self-application Lubricin patients used much less of it to get better results.”

The results were published in the journal The Ocular Surface. The results stated, “The primary endpoint was met. Lubricin supplementation achieved greater than a 72 percent reduction from baseline in foreign body sensation (<.013), burning/stinging, pain, sticky feeling (P<.0432), blurred vision (P<.0013), and photophobia (P<.011) in at least one eye.”

With little or no fanfare, Novartis signed an option deal with Lubris last year. Novartis gets the technology for eye-related indications globally except in Europe. Lubris has a licensing deal for Europe with Italian drug company Dompe Group. Lubris will also retain the commercial rights for non-ophthalmological indications, for example, osteoarthritis.

“ECF843 has the potential to be the first therapeutic to provide rapid relief of dry eye symptoms and significantly improve signs,” said Vasant Narasimhan, Novartis’ Global Head, Drug Development and Chief Medical Officer, in a statement. “Exercising our option to in-license ECF843, along with our recent acquisition of Encore Medical for the treatment of presbyopia, underscores our commitment to treating diseases of the front of the eye which impact millions of people worldwide.”

Novartis’ ophthalmology and dry eye treatments include Systane, Tears Naturale and Genteal.

Lubris is a virtual company. The company’s chief executive, Truitt, is based in Seattle. There’s also an office in Framingham, Mass. One of its scientific founders, Tannin Schmidt, is at the University of Calgary, and the other, David Sullivan, is at Mass Eye and Ear. To date, funding has been generated by angel investors and high net worth individuals.

Carroll writes, “Now that Novartis has put money into the company, following a European deal with Milan-based Dompe Group, Truitt has a ‘substantial runway’ to go after the next set of non-eye targets, says the CEO. That will start with dry mouth, maybe a side effect of head and neck cancer therapy that destroys the salivary glands. Interstitial cystitis, recoating the damaged bladder lining, is on the short list.”

Schmidt and others have published on the rule of lubricin in osteoarthritis and as an inflammatory.