Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk made waves last year with the approval of its oral diabetes med Rybelsus. Now, it's snapping up the drug delivery specialist behind that formulation to boost its oral biologics offerings across a range of diseases.
Novo will buy out Roseland, New Jersey-based Emisphere Technologies for $1.8 billion to get its hands on the company's tablet technology.
Known as Eligen SNAC, the tech uses an absorption-enhancing excipient to translate drugs into oral form, Novo said in a release. Notably, it allows drug molecules like large peptides and proteins to move across biological membranes such as those in the gastrointestinal tract.
Novo recently used the tech under license to develop its diabetes drug, Rybelsus—the first and only oral GLP-1 drug approved to control blood sugar in type 2 diabetes patients.
Novo plans to acquire all outstanding shares of Emisphere for $1.35 billion and will take over royalty obligations on Eligen SNAC, worth $450 million, to Emisphere's largest shareholder, MHR Fund Management.
Once the acquisition closes, Novo will be off the hook for any future Eligen SNAC royalty payments. But more importantly, Novo aims to use the tech to expand its oral biologics offerings in diabetes and other diseases, the company said.
To that end, the company will make "significant investments" in the platform. It already has around 100 scientists working at its Copenhagen headquarters to help beef up its tablet-based diabetes offerings, Novo told Reuters.
“By further developing the technology, we hope in the future to produce the medicine cheaper than we do now, thus allowing us to penetrate more markets and give broader access to diabetes drugs,” R&D chief Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen told the news outlet.
Novo for many years labored to develop an oral insulin formulation before it pivoted to Rybelsus, also known as oral semaglutide.
Upon the GLP-1 drug's approval in September 2019, Novo hailed Rybelsus as a "holy grail" diabetes med, thanks to its single, once-daily dosing—a considerable convenience edge over injectable GLP-1s and SLGT2s, two of the more popular non-insulin classes of diabetes treatments.
Novo waited to secure access through payer negotiations before moving forward with its full Rybelsus launch, and COVID-19 disruptions put a dent in sales in early 2020, but by August of this year, the company had entered "strike mode."
And the drug's launch was on the up-and-up in the third quarter, executives said during last week's earnings call. Around 33,000 U.S. doctors are now prescribing the drug—back to pre-COVID levels—Novo's EVP of commercial strategy and corporate affairs, Camilla Sylvest, said on the call.
Overall, Rybelsus pulled in $173 million during the first nine months of 2020. Meanwhile, Ozempic, an older, injectable version of the drug, posted $2.36 billion. Sylvest added that the company's plan to expand use of the GLP-1 class overall was "working as we had planned," and attributed 80% of new GLP-1 prescriptions to patients new to diabetes treatment or those switching over from another class of diabetes meds.