Novartis Buys Rights to GSK MS Drug for $1 Billion

The multiple sclerosis treatment has yet to be tested in Phase 3 clinical trials.

Aug 24, 2015
Kerry Grens

WIKIMEDIA, OGUENTHERNovartis has purchased the full rights to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)’s ofatumumab, a monoclonal antibody therapy already approved for use in the U.S. to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia, in a billion-dollar deal. The plan is to develop the drug for multiple sclerosis (MS) and other indications.

Some analysts expressed skepticism over the drug’s return. Another monoclonal antibody treatment for MS, Roche’s ocrelizumab, is several years ahead of Novartis’s drug. “It fits strategically, but from a timing perspective there’s going to be quite a gap,” Michael Leuchten, an analyst at Barclays Plc in London, told Bloomberg Business.

“It’s a joke,” Fabian Wenner, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux in Zurich, told Bloomberg Business. “Patients either want better convenience than the old drugs or they want better efficacy, and ofatumumab is offering neither of those things. The chances of this being successful in MS and generating any sales are zero in my view.”

Ofatumumab binds to the cell-surface protein CD20 to detonate B cells.

“Positive phase IIa results for subcutaneous Ofatumumab demonstrated significant reduction of up to 90% in the cumulative number of new brain lesions in patients with MS between weeks 4-12 in the study,” according to a statement from Novartis. “No unexpected safety findings were reported in the study. Since this was a dose finding trial, Ofatumumab is ready to begin phase III pivotal studies.”