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UCB buys epilepsy firm Engage Tx in $270m deal

Deal includes experimental drug-device combination therapy Staccato Alprazolam


Belgium drugmaker UCB has bolstered its epilepsy franchise with the acquisition of US biotech Engage Therapeutics and its experimental drug-device combination therapy Staccato Alprazolam.

UCB says the therapy could become the first “on-demand, single-use treatment to rapidly terminate an active epileptic seizure” and could be of use in 20-30% of all epilepsy patients.

Staccato Alprazolam – currently in mid-stage clinical testing – works a little bit like an EpiPen for a severe allergic reaction. However, rather than being delivered as a self-injection, the drug takes the form of a handheld inhaler that delivers a raid dose of alprazolam, a well-established rescue therapy for epileptic seizures, with a single normal breath.

UCB is paying $125m upfront for Engage, claiming worldwide rights to Staccato Alprazolam which was originally developed by California’s Alexza Pharma, acquired by Spain’s Ferrer in 2016.

The Belgian company is also on the hook for milestone payments tied to development and commercial achievements that could total $145m.

Earlier this year, Engage reported the results of its phase 2b StATES trial, which found that 66% of people treated with the drug as rescue therapy for an active seizure resolved symptoms within two minutes, with no recurrence within two hours.

Just 43% of a match placebo group achieved that outcome, and the difference between the two groups was statistically significant, according to the data, which was  presented at virtual American Academy of Neurology congress in April.

The Staccato inhaler is already on the US and European markets as an integral part of Alexza’s Adasuve (loxapine) product, used for the acute treatment of agitation associated with schizophrenia or bipolar I disorder in adults.

If approved for marketing, Staccato Alprazolam would slot into UCB’s epilepsy franchise alongside drug treatments like Keppra (levetiracetam), Vimpat (lacosamide) and Briviact (brivaracetam). The company also sells a nasal spray formulation of midazolam – called Nayzilam – in the US market.

UCB is however facing patent expiries for Vimpat in 2024, threatening a drug that contributed €1.3bn out of the company’s total sales of €4.9bn last year, and it needs new products to bolster the franchise before the onset of generic competition to the brand.

It’s also due to lose patent protection for immunology blockbuster Cimzia (certolizumab pegol) around the same time, threatening a drug which contributed €1.7bn in 2019.

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th June 2020

From: Research, Healthcare



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