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20 Dec 2016

Novartis, Conatus Pharma to co-develop liver disease drug, emricasan

Novartis announced the signing of an exclusive option, collaboration and license agreement with Conatus Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biotechnology company focused on the development of novel medicines to treat liver disease. This agreement will enable Novartis and Conatus to jointly develop emricasan.

Emricasan is an investigational, first-in-class, oral, pan-caspase inhibitor for the treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) with advanced fibrosis (scarring) and cirrhosis. This collaboration has the potential to expand treatment options for people in various stages of fatty liver disease, where no approved medicines currently exist.

Under the terms of this agreement, Novartis will make an upfront payment to Conatus of USD 50 million. Any additional exercise fee will be paid to Conatus following achievement of certain criteria as defined in the option, collaboration and license agreement, including required anti-trust approvals.

Novartis is developing Farnesoid X receptor (FXR) agonists for the treatment of chronic liver diseases. As part of this collaboration, Conatus will conduct multiple Phase 2b clinical trials with emricasan in NASH. If concluded positively, Novartis would then conduct phase 3 studies of emricasan as a single treatment and start development of combination therapies with an FXR agonist.

FXR agonists have been shown to address three of the most important aspects of NASH progression by reducing fat, inflammation and fibrosis in the liver. The most advanced Novartis investigational compound, a potent, non-bile acid FXR agonist, has recently received Fast Track designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for NASH with liver fibrosis and is in a phase 2 clinical trial.

NASH is a common, often silent liver disease; the major feature of which is fat in the liver, along with inflammation and scarring. Around 3-5% of the US population is affected with NASH, which is set to become the leading cause of liver transplants in the US by 2020.

Emricasan is a first-in-class, oral, pan-caspase inhibitor for the treatment of NASH fibrosis and cirrhosis. To date, emricasan has been studied in over 650 patients in sixteen clinical trials across a broad range of liver diseases. In multiple clinical phase 2 trials conducted by Conatus, emricasan has demonstrated significant, rapid and sustained reductions in elevated levels of key biomarkers of inflammation and cell death, which play a role in the severity and progression of liver disease. The FDA has granted Fast Track designation for the development of emricasan in patients with NASH cirrhosis.

Novartis scientists began to develop leads for the FXR agonism program in 2007. Through this effort, several non-bile acid FXR agonists have been identified and pre-clinical data demonstrates that these compounds are very selective with differentiated biological profiles. First-in-human studies have continued to support their differentiated profiles and their potential for further development. Two Novartis FXR agonists are now in worldwide clinical studies in NASH patients.

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