Novartis to buy privately-held British biotech company Ziarco Group

Swiss drugmaker Novartis today struck a deal to buy privately-held British biotech company Ziarco Group, a move designed to gain access to its potential blockbuster eczema drug candidate Eucrisa.

Novartis did not reveal the financial terms of the deal, but Bloomberg had earlier valued the Kent, England-based company at upward of $1 billion including when milestones and royalties are taken into account.

The acquisition adds UK-based Ziarco's once-daily oral H4 receptor antagonist, ZPL389, which is being developed for the chronic, itchy inflammatory skin condition to Novartis's existing portfolio of approved and investigational dermatological drugs.

Ziarco's lead investigational product, ZPL389, is a potential first-in-class oral treatment for moderate-to-severe eczema.

Novartis, whose dermatology portfolio includes Cosentyx for the treatment of moderate-to-severe psoriasis and Xolair for the treatment of chronic spontaneous urticaria, said that eczema is a chronic, itchy, inflammatory skin condition found in millions of children and adults worldwide.

Currently, no safe, effective, and well-tolerated oral treatments are available for the moderate-to-severe form of this condition.

"There is an unmet need for innovative, effective and safe oral treatment options for people living with eczema," said Vasant Narasimhan, global head, Drug Development and chief medical officer, Novartis.

"We are proud of our dermatology capabilities shown by the recent successful launches of Cosentyx and Xolair. Now we're excited about a potential new medicine for people with eczema through the acquisition of Ziarco and the addition of a first-in-class oral H4 receptor antagonist to our growing pipeline," he added.

"There is an unmet need for innovative, effective and safe oral treatment options for people living with eczema," Vasant Narasimhan, Novartis's head of drug development and chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Ziarco was formed in 2012 with a portfolio of programmes from Pfizer that were in licensed with exclusive worldwide rights to the company. 

Its investors include Pfizer Inc.'s venture capital arm Pfizer Venture Investments, Amgen's Amgen Ventures and Lundbeckfond Ventures, which is the controlling shareholder in Danish health-care companies H. Lundbeck A/S and ALK-Abello A/S.