Array, Novartis Team for Mek-inhibitor

Boulder, Colo.- based Array BioPharma is again cashing in on its discovery platform for small molecules that block the protein kinase Mek. Novartis has agreed to pay $45 million out of the gate for ARRY-162, a MEK-inhibitor in Phase I cancer trials, and other back-up MEK-blocking compounds. As part of the Novartis deal, Array could earn up to $422 million in additional milestones as the compound moves through the pipeline. Array is keeping a hand in the project, agreeing to pay for part of the development costs for the compound in exchange for what it calls “a significantly higher royalty rate” for U.S. sales of ARRY-162. ARRY-162 blocks MEK, one of several protein kinases in a cell signaling pathway associated with cancer cell proliferation and survival. The compound is currently in an early-phase study in advanced cancer patients with solid tumors to determine the right dose and assess its safety. ARRY-162 isn’t the first MEK inhibitor Array has married off. AstraZeneca licensed what is now known as AZD6224 as part of a long-standing collaboration around the protein target. Though AstraZeneca continues to develop AZD6224, most notably testing the drug in combination with Merck’s Akt inhibitor MK-2206, Array was freed from the exclusivity of the partnership last year. But in the six years of the pact, the biotech not only earned research funding, but pocketed some $96 million in milestone payments. From the looks of the Novartis deal structure, it looks like the Swiss drug major will pick up where AstraZeneca left off. Array appears to be on a bit of a roll in scoring deals that wed reasonable upfront payments with research funding, while also keeping a healthy slice of future product sales. The biotech scored a $60 million upfront payment in December, when Amgen signed on to jointly develop ARRY-403, a second-generation glucokinase activator in Phase I. Glucokinase “senses” glucose in the pancreas by catalyzing the phosphorylation of glucose to glucose-6-phosphate, a critical first step in metabolizing sugar. Drugs like ARRY-403 enable the pancreas to better sense glucose, leading to increased insulin production. Amgen also agreed to provide funding over the course of a two-year research collaboration around glucokinase inhibitors.

Author: Lisa Jarvis

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