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Roche enters NASH race with deal to buy Jecure

Company joins Novartis, Pfizer and others in nascent market

Jecure

Roche has joined the melee of pharma companies trying to claim a share of the market for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) drugs, cutting a deal to acquire US start-up Jecure Therapeutics.

Terms of the takeover haven’t been disclosed, but buying the San Diego biotech will give Roche rights to its portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors, all currently at the preclinical stage. NLRP3 is a protein thought to be involved in the formation of “inflammosomes”, protein complexes involved in cellular inflammatory responses.

NASH is a hot topic in pharma development at the moment, with a host of companies vying to bring forward new treatments for the disease, which is viewed as an emerging health crisis - and an untapped pharma market. It is characterised by a build-up of fat that can lead to liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and - in some patients - the need for a liver transplant. Inflammation is considered to be a trigger for the liver damage that characterises the disease.

Rates of NASH are rising thanks to an increase in obesity and diabetes, which increase the risk of developing the disease, and with improvements in the treatment of viral hepatitis is expected to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020. Some predictions put the market potential at $20bn to $35bn a year.

Roche is playing catch-up with a host of other companies trying to bring forward drugs for NASH and other form of fatty liver disease, with dozens of candidates already in clinical trials.

Among these, Intercept’s Ocaliva (obeticholic acid) is already approved to treat rare liver disease primary biliary cirrhosis, and is in phase 3 for NASH patients with cirrhosis, while Gilead Sciences recently reported phase 2 data with GS-9674 and is working on combinations with two other candidates.

Other competition is coming from pharma heavyweights Novartis and Pfizer, which recently joined forces to test three drugs in combination, and other clinical-stage player such as Allergan, Viking, Genfit, Novo Nordisk, Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca.

James Sabry

Roche's head of pharma partnering, James Sabry

Nevertheless, the Swiss pharma giant thinks Jecure’s approach – which stems from the work of University of California San Diego (UCSD) researcher Ariel Feldstein – sits apart from rival therapies and could have applications beyond NASH in other inflammatory disorders gout including inflammatory bowel disease and cardiovascular diseases.

“We’ve had a long-standing interest in targeting inflammatory pathways that may play a role in a number of serious diseases,” said Roche’s head of pharma partnering James Sabry.

“We’re excited to combine Jecure’s portfolio with our discovery and development capabilities, as well as our expertise in NLRP3 biology, to potentially help people with inflammatory diseases.”

28th November 2018

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