Novartis signs $50 million deal for Mesoblast cell therapy for COVID, beyond

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is pictured at the French company's headquarters in Rueil-Malmaison near Paris, France, April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis NOVN.S aims to boost its respiratory treatment portfolio with a $50 million deal for an off-the-shelf cell therapy from Mesoblast MSB.AX that it hopes to deploy for COVID-19 patients as well as others suffering from respiratory distress.

The Swiss drugmaker’s deal with Australia-based Mesoblast secures rights to develop, commercialize and manufacture Remestemcel-L for treating acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), including that associated with COVID-19, for which the therapy is currently in late-stage trials.

While the therapy has shown promise in COVID-19 patients in a compassionate use programme in March in 12 patients, Remestemcel-L was associated with an 83% survival rate.

Novartis wants the medicine for beyond the pandemic, too, to help patients who in normal times also land in the hospital with ARDS and often die.

“It has the potential to be the first treatment for the most critically ill ARDS patients, and it provides us with an opportunity to apply years of specialized experience directly to the work of saving lives,” Novartis’s chief drug developer, John Tsai, said on Friday.

Unlike Kymriah, Novartis’s cancer cell therapy, Remestemcel-L does not have to be tailored for each patient. Once the deal is closed, Novartis said it is planning to help Mesoblast work on quality attributes of the therapy so it meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements necessary for late-stage trial beyond COVID-19.

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields