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Novartis boosts pipeline

Licensing deals for hepatitis and depression drugs improve Swiss firm's late-stage prospects

Novartis has added to its pipeline cupboard by signing licensing agreements with two firms for experimental hepatitis and depression drugs.

The Swiss firm will pay biotechnology firm Idenix as much as $525m for access to its hepatitis C candidate, NM283 (valopicitabine). It has also licensed agomelatine, an investigational drug currently in phase III trials for the treatment of major depressive disorder, from French firm Servier.

Analysts have welcomed the deals, although they said that it was still too early to gauge the full potential of both compounds.

ìWhile neither product is without risk, it provides Novartis with 'more shots on goal' and increases the size of the late-stage pipeline,î said analysts at Bear Stearns, in a research note.

NM283, considered as one of the most promising medicines under development to treat hepatitis C, has recently suffered a setback; at the end of March, Idenix said it would delay late-stage trials of the drug to first test it at lower doses to avoid gastro-intestinal problems.

Under the terms of the deal, Novartis will have exclusive rights to market and promote the drug everywhere except the USA, UK, Spain, France, Italy and Germany, where the two firms will co-promote it.

Under the terms of the Servier agreement, which requires antitrust approval in the US, Novartis has acquired exclusive rights to further develop and market agomelatine in several countries, including the key US market. Servier has retained the rights to develop and market the product in the rest of the world.

Although agomelatine has been filed for approval in Europe, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has requested that Novartis conduct a clinical trial programme in the US.

Analysts at Kepler Equities said the drug appears to have similar efficacy to other antidepressants such as Wyeth's Effexor and GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil, but may have fewer side effects.

30th September 2008

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