BioPharma, Pharma

Ovid Therapeutics adds to epilepsy drug pipeline with new AstraZeneca alliance

Ovid Therapeutics is acquiring global rights to AstraZeneca molecules that address a novel target to treat epilepsy. The AstraZeneca deal comes 10 months after Takeda Pharmaceutical paid $196 million up front to acquire Ovid’s rights to a Phase 3 ready molecule for two rare forms of epilepsy.


AstraZeneca’s early research addressing a target for tough-to-treat forms of epilepsy has caught the eye of Ovid Therapeutics, which is acquiring global rights to the preclinical small molecules in a deal similar to a previous epilepsy drug alliance the biotech had with Takeda Pharmaceutical.

According to deal terms announced Monday, New York-based Ovid will pay AstraZeneca $12.5 million up front, breaking down to $5 million in cash $7.5 million in shares of publicly traded Ovid. Milestone payments could bring the pharmaceutical giant $203 million more.

Epilepsy comes in many forms with different causes, but broadly speaking, the seizures characteristic of the disorder stem from bursts of electrical activity in the brain. The AstraZeneca molecules targets KCC2, a transporter protein that plays a key role in maintaining chloride homeostasis in neurons. The pharma giant has been working with scientists at Tufts University, studying how defects in this protein lead to epilepsy and other neurological disorders. The most advanced KCC2-targeting small molecule from AstraZeneca is called OV350. According to Ovid, by activating KCC2, OV350 is thought to block the hyperexcitability in neurons that is associated with epilepsy.

In addition to addressing treatment-resistant epilepsies, OV350 may also be able to bring patients a side-effect advantage. In preclinical research, the drug did not cause sedation, a common side effect of currently available anti-epileptic drugs. As Ovid takes the reins on the AstraZeneca molecules, the company said it will continue working with Stephen Moss and Jamie Maguire of the Tufts Laboratory for Basic and Translational Neuroscience Research, as well as Aaron Goldman of Harvard Medical School.

Ovid has been looking to rebuild its pipeline following the late-stage clinical trial failure in 2020 of the company’s experimental treatment for Angelman syndrome, a rare inherited neurological disorder. The Ovid pipeline included an epilepsy drug, soticlestat, developed in partnership with Takeda. That molecule originated in Takeda’s labs and was licensed to Ovid in 2017.

Last year, Takeda acquired Ovid’s rights to the drug, a deal that followed positive Phase 2 results in 2020 in Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy. Under the original collaboration, the partners jointly developed soticlestat and would share equally in its commercialization. Instead, Takeda paid $196 million up front to get Ovid’s rights to the molecule. When this transaction was announced last March, Ovid CEO Jeremy Levin said his company would look to add to its pipeline via deals, potentially striking up deals similar to the Takeda collaboration.

If Ovid is able to commercialize any of the molecules licensed from AstraZeneca, the biotech would pay the pharma giant royalties from sales. But AstraZeneca could also join in the development of drug candidates stemming from the agreement. According to deal terms, when an epilepsy drug candidate shows proof of efficacy in clinical testing, AstraZeneca will have the right of first negotiation on a strategic collaboration on the drug.

“The KCC2 transporter is an exciting and novel target that we believe holds great promise in treating epilepsies,” Levin said in a prepared statement. “The compounds are a natural fit for our franchise dedicated to small molecule epilepsy medicines, and they follow our track record of successful partnering with large pharmaceutical companies.”

Now that soticlestat’s development is in the hands of Takeda, Ovid’s most advanced program is OV329, a drug being developed to treat tuberous sclerosis and infantile spasms. Ovid expects that small molecule to enter the clinic later this year.

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