Boehringer gets into 'guided-missile drugs' with $1.5 billion deal for NBE

ZURICH (Reuters) - Boehringer Ingelheim is paying 1.18 billion euros ($1.5 billion) for Swiss-based NBE Therapeutics, the German drugmaker said on Thursday, adding pipeline candidates including a drug in early trials against triple-negative breast cancer and lung cancer.

Basel-based biotech NBE, in which Boehringer’s venture fund previously had a stake along with Denmark’s Novo Nordisk Foundation and Prague-based PPF Group, is hoping to develop so-called Antibody-drug Conjugates (ADCs) from its own platform against a series of cancers.

ADCs combine a monoclonal antibody with a chemical drug payload, aiming to pack a one-two punch against cancers and potentially other diseases.

Though this class of “guided-missile” cancer medicines got off to a hit-and-miss start due to challenges of safely and effectively combining the two drug classes, advances have led to several recent approvals, including medicines from companies such as AstraZeneca, Roche and Seattle Genetics (Seagen).

“Boehringer Ingelheim gains access to an innovative and unique platform that it will use to build a leading ADC portfolio and develop potential combinations with other assets from its cancer immunology portfolio,” the company said in a statement.

The deal is a bet on the future, with the triple negative breast cancer hopeful, called NBE-002, only having just started human trials, and four other candidates either in discovery or preclinical stages.

In August, NBE added Erich Schlick as chairman.

Schlick, now a venture capitalist, in the early 1990s worked with the partnership that eventually led to the development of Humira, AbbVie’s drug for auto-immune disorders like psoriasis that is the world’s top-selling medicine at about $20 billion annually.

($1 = 0.8241 euros)

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Steve Orlofsky