Novartis is adding a group of radioligand therapies to its pipeline, just one week after its radioligand treatment for prostate cancer staved off cancer progression and helped patients live longer in a phase 3 study.
The Swiss pharma is licensing the rights to develop and commercialize treatments based on a library of radioligand compounds from iTheranostics, a subsidiary of Sofie Biosciences. Originally developed at the University of Heidelberg, these compounds target fibroblast activation protein, or FAP, a cell surface protein found in low levels in healthy tissue but found in high levels in common cancers.
“FAP is an exciting target and these agents are a great fit with our radioligand therapy pipeline, which we are actively investigating across multiple tumor types,” said Susanne Schaffert, Ph.D., president of Novartis Oncology, in a statement.
The agreement with Sofie includes the rights to develop the radioligand assets for imaging as well as therapeutic use.
Radioligand therapy combines a targeting compound, or ligand, with a radioactive isotope that blocks tumor growth by damaging DNA. These targeted medicines bind to markers or proteins that are expressed in high levels in certain tumors or tumor-associated tissue, such as stroma.
Novartis acquired Advanced Accelerator Applications and its radiopharmaceuticals for $3.9 billion in 2017. At the time, the latter’s marketed products were radioactive tracers used in diagnostic scans, but it was developing Lutathera, a treatment for neuroendocrine tumors that’s based on the rare earth metal leutetium. The drug scored FDA approval in early 2018.
As for its prostate cancer treatment, known as 177Lu-PSMA-617, the company picked it up in its October 2018 buyout of Endocyte for $2.1 billion. Novartis hasn’t shared full data from the phase 3 trial yet but will start preparing to seek approvals in the U.S. and EU later this year.