Novartis has bolstered its dermatology portfolio by buying UK firm Ziarco, bolting on a first-in-class oral therapy for eczema.
Financials details are not being divulged but analysts have suggested the deal could be valued at up to $1bn, weighted towards potential future milestone payments.
Ziarco's lead product is ZPL389, an orally-active histamine H4 receptor antagonist originally developed by Pfizer, which is in a mid-stage clinical trial for eczema and early testing in plaque psoriasis.
The deal comes hard on the heels of Pfizer gaining FDA approval of its Eucrisa (crisaborole) topical treatment for eczema - also known as atopic dermatitis - which is predicted to become a $2bn product thanks to a dearth of new therapies for the skin condition in the last 15 years.
A new oral therapy for eczema would extend the range of new therapies for patients, which could also include the first injectable drug - Sanofi/Regeneron's Dupixent (dupilumab) - which was filed for approval in the EU this month. GlobalData has predicted that new therapies will help boost the atopic dermatitis market from $3.9bn in 2012 to $5.63bn in 2022.
Ziarco has completed a phase IIa proof of concept study with ZPL-389 in patients with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis, which showed a "clinically and statistically significant decrease in inflammation compared to placebo," according to the company.
After eight weeks' therapy, the average reduction in skin lesions was round 50% with ZPL389 and 27% with placebo, and there were indications that the drug could also alleviate itching and improve sleep.
ZPL389 complements Novartis' existing dermatology medicines, which include Xolair (omalizumab) for chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) and recent launch Cosentyx (secukinumab) for psoriasis, as well as pipeline projects including atopic dermatitis candidate fevipiprant (QAW039) in phase II and ligelizumab (QGE031) for CIU.
"We're excited about a potential new medicine for people with eczema through the acquisition of Ziarco and the addition of a first-in-class oral H4 receptor antagonist to our growing pipeline," said Vasant Narasimhan, global head of drug development and chief medical officer at Novartis.