Novo Nordisk in $1.8bn deal for oral biologic tech

Novo Nordisk to acquire Emisphere Technologies and take ownership of Eligen drug delivery technology.

The two companies have been partners since 2007, which culminated in the approval of Rybelsus (semaglutide).

The glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) treatment for adults with type 2 diabetes became the first such treatment to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for oral delivery last year.

Image: iStock/fizkes

Rybelsus was created by Novo Nordisk under a license agreement with Emisphere, using the Eligen SNAC drug delivery technology.

Novo Nordisk has now chosen to acquire Emisphere outright for $1.35 billion (€1.14 billion), which allows the former company to gain control over the Eligen platform and to eliminate future royalty obligations to the latter company.

In addition, Novo Nordisk has paid $450 million to buy out MHR Fund Management, the largest shareholder in Emisphere, of royalty stream obligations.

Oral biologics

The technology at the heart of the deal is the Eligen platform, which facilitates the absorption of small and large molecules via oral delivery.

A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk explained: “Eligen utilizes delivery agents or ‘carriers’, such as SNAC, to enable transport of therapeutic molecules across biological membranes, such as those of the gastrointestinal tract, and allow the drugs to exert their desired pharmacological effect thus allowing for a switch from injectables to oral medicines.”

According to Emisphere, its platform possesses approximately 4,000 delivery agents. Further than this, the company notes that in addition to GLP-1, insulin, calcitonin, parathyroid hormone, growth hormone, and peptide YY can all be delivered through use of this technology.

Once the drug and paired carrier reach the target intracellular space, they disassociate and the drug passes directly into circulation, while the delivery agent is excreted by the body.

Targeting diabetes

The oral delivery of insulin would be of particular interest to Novo Nordisk, as it aims to grow its market share in the global diabetes market to one-third by 2025, according to Lars Jorgensen, CEO of the company, in a third quarter earning calls.

Rybelsus is already playing its part in growing the company’s market share, with Jorgensen stating that the oral treatment had managed 4% of total prescriptions in the GLP-1 market whilst being launched during the outbreak of COVID-19.

Regarding plans beyond Rybelsus, the spokesperson outlined, “The next Novo Nordisk projects utilizing the Eligen SNAC technology are higher doses and new formulations of oral GLP-1 that are currently being assessed in early-stage clinical trials.”

When asked about what further therapy areas Novo Nordisk could use the technology in, the spokesperson noted that it was still ‘too early’ to say. However, they added that due to the range of molecules that are eligible to be delivered by the technology, it could potentially be in any therapeutic area.

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