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J&J buys firm seeking hepatitis B cure

Acquires Philadelphia-based Novira therapeutics

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has agreed to buy a Pennsylvania biotech company that is trying to develop treatments to cure hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection.

Terms of the acquisition of Philadelphia-based Novira Therapeutics have not been disclosed, but J&J says it expects to close the deal before the end of the year.

Taking over Novira gives J&J's Janssen pharma unit rights to the company's lead drug candidate NVR 3-778, a small-molecule 'core inhibitor' that can be taken orally and disrupts the HBV lifecycle by inducing the assembly of defective capsids - the protein shell of a virus.

HBV has been somewhat overshadowed by the activity going on in hepatitis C of late but remains a global disease with very high unmet need, and remains the most common serious liver infection in the world with around 350m cases worldwide.

There are several approved drugs to treat chronic infection with HIV - including pegylated interferons, generic antivirals such as lamivudine, adefovir dipivoxil, tenofovir, entecavir and Novartis still-in-patent Tyzeka/Sebivo (telbivudine).

As recently as a couple of years ago it was being suggested that research into new HBV drugs would dwindle because entecavir and tenofovir are highly effective and face little resistance. Indeed, recent guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged that the challenge lies more in expanding access to these therapies around the world than in developing new drugs.

It is also clear however that while these reduce liver damage dramatically, they can only provide a cure in rare cases, a situation that companies such as Novira, TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals and therapeutic vaccine developer Abivax are trying to change.

When used in combination with current drugs, Novira's core inhibitors are expected to provide greater and faster suppression of HBV and potentially lead to higher and faster cure rates, avoiding the need for patients to stay on lifelong treatment.

"We are excited about the prospect this acquisition offers to accelerate the development of curative treatments for people affected by chronic hepatitis B," said Janssen's head of R&D William Hait.

"NVR 3-778 offers the potential for efficient suppression of virus production and replication, which could help address the remaining unmet medical needs," he added.

J&J is also continuing to research new HCV therapies, and earlier this year paid up to $1.1bn for the rights to Achillion Pharmaceuticals' pipeline of drugs, headed by ACH-3102, an NS5A inhibitor in phase II testing.

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th November 2015

From: Research



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