Novartis deepens ties with Voyager via $100M gene therapy deal

Novartis deepens ties with Voyager via $100M gene therapy deal

  03 Jan 2024

Dive Brief:

  • Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis has formed a new collaboration with partner Voyager Therapeutics, agreeing Tuesday to license one experimental gene therapy and the tools to develop another.
  • Novartis will pay the biotechnology company $100 million in cash upfront, including $20 million in stock, in a deal that could be worth as much as $1.2 billion. In return, Novartis will receive worldwide rights to an experimental gene therapy for Huntington’s disease and a license to use the biotech’s gene therapy delivery tools to develop a treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA.
  • The deal deepens Novartis’ ties to Voyager. The two first formed an alliance in 2022 and broadened that partnership last year.

Dive Insight:

Novartis is a leading gene therapy developer. In 2019, its SMA treatment Zolgensma became one of the first genetic medicines cleared for use in the U.S., and so far has been the field’s most lucrative product.

Since then, gene therapy has gone through a tumultuous few years. Though other treatments have come to market, the space is still dealing with technological limitations and commercial questions. A market downturn hasn’t helped either, causing several companies to either restructure, pare back research or shut down altogether.

Still, investment continues to flow into newer gene therapy companies aiming to improve upon earlier technologies. Novartis has been among those interested. In recent years, for instance, the company has acquired biotechnology startups like Vedere Bio, Gyroscope Therapeutics and Arctos Medical, gaining treatments for eye diseases and other rare disorders.

Novartis has also kept an eye on Voyager. Its interest centers around tools the company has been working on to better deliver gene therapies to hard-to-reach organs like the brain. That technology, TRACER, has also been involved in partnerships with Pfizer and Neurocrine Biosciences and helped fund Voyager during the sector’s pullback.

Including Tuesday’s announcement, Novartis has now turned to Voyager three times since 2022. The first deal gave the Swiss company options to license Voyager “capsids,” the viral shells that protect gene therapies as they are delivered into the body. A year later, Novartis exercised options to some of them.

Now Novartis is taking the alliance a step further. It has acquired full rights to a preclinical program for Huntington’s disease, as well as exclusive access to capsids that would be used to make a gene therapy for SMA.

For Novartis, the deal represents another shot against Huntington’s, a neurological disease that’s been a tough target for drugmakers. Last year it stopped developing an experimental treatment known as branaplam after observing safety concerns in clinical testing.

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