Caisson expands Novo partnership with $167M insulin-delivery deal

Caisson CEO Thomas Harlan (left) with chief scientist Paul DeAngelis--Courtesy of Caisson Biotech

Caisson Biotech, which signed on with Novo Nordisk ($NVO) in 2012 for the development of drugs using Caisson's delivery platform HEPtune, expanded the scope of the deal to cover specific indications, including its approach to insulin delivery. Under the revamped agreement, which could bring Caisson up to $167 million in milestone payments, Caisson gives Novo exclusive rights to use the delivery tech for its diabetes products as well as nonexclusive rights to use it for a host of other diseases.

For Caisson, the agreement is a welcome one that not only gives it the financial means to move the process forward with its preclinical delivery platform but also lends a good deal of credibility to the Austin, TX, outfit, its leadership says. The HEPtune technology is the company's sole outlet, but its flexibility as a platform could make it useful in several different markets.

HEPtune is a substitute for polyethylene glycol, or PEG, which is commonly used as a vehicle to deliver many kinds of drugs. According to Caisson, PEG's wide use as a delivery mechanism is hampered by antibodies that have become more prevalent with greater exposure, rendering PEG less effective. HEPtune uses a similar structure as PEG, but one that is derived from a sugar polymer called heparosan that exists naturally and thus won't be as readily recognized by the body's immune system as a foreign entity.

"We have found a way to harness these precursor sugars that normally occur in the body to become 'stealth,'" Caisson CEO Thomas Harlan told FierceDrugDelivery. "The heparosan won't have any blocks, and that's one of the big advantages. It also doesn't build up in the body and is naturally degraded. We call it a 'green' drug conjugate--it's natural, not foreign."

Caisson's managing director, Breca Tracy, added: "One of the advantages is that this is a safe and nontoxic way to deliver compounds... In several different studies it has shown not to accumulate in any organs."

Caisson pulled in $100 million from Novo back in May 2012 for a development deal in therapeutic areas that, at the time, the company kept undisclosed. This began what has now become a more specific deal giving Novo the exclusive rights to any insulin-related HEPtune products, as well as additional rights to treatments for human growth hormone therapy, obesity and inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn's, lupus, and rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, according to a release.

On top of this latest deal's potential milestone payments, Caisson collected an undisclosed upfront from Novo. And having the world's largest diabetes company in your corner gives a drug delivery outfit some options, Harlan said.

"It's turning out to be a whopper for us," he said. "It definitely gives us credibility and financial leverage... And we're just pretty excited to also make a difference in patients' lives in the process."

Caisson, which has several other large--albeit undisclosed--partnerships in tow, also looks to develop its own pipeline, Harlan said, focusing on drugs coming off patent in about 5 to 7 years' time and using its platform to carve out a more viable niche in those markets.

- here's the release