BioPharma, Pharma

Novartis Extends Its Reach in Radiopharmaceuticals With $1B Mariana Oncology Acquisition

Mariana Oncology brings Novartis a lead radiopharmaceutical program in development for small cell lung cancer. The deal is the latest in a string of big pharma M&A moves in the red-hot radiopharmaceuticals space.

Novartis is adding on to its capabilities in radiopharmaceuticals through a deal to acquire Mariana Oncology, a startup with a drug pipeline and technologies that diversify the pharmaceutical giant’s scope in this fast-growing area of cancer drug research.

According to the deal terms announced Thursday, Novartis is paying $1 billion up front. Milestone payments could bring the Mariana shareholders another $750 million.

Novartis is already a leader in radiopharmaceuticals with two commercialized therapies, Lutathera for gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and Pluvicto for prostate cancer. Both products employ the radioisotope lutetium, a beta particle. Beta particles are smaller, making them good at penetrating tissue. But they are less potent than alpha particles.

The research of Watertown, Massachusetts-based Mariana spans both alpha and beta particles. When Mariana emerged from stealth in 2021, co-founder and CEO Simon Read told MedCity News that working with both types of particles enabled the company to select the one best suited for a given cancer. Alpha particles could be used for smaller tumors while beta particles could be used for larger ones.

Mariana says it designs its peptide-based radioligand therapies to maximize tumor penetration while minimizing toxicity. Lead program MC-339, based on the alpha particle actinium, is in development as a treatment for small cell lung cancer. Mariana has not disclosed the target of this radiopharmaceutical.

Novartis’s two commercialized radiopharmaceuticals are from acquisitions: Lutathera came in 2017 followed by Pluvicto in 2018. The Swiss pharma giant’s purchase of Mariana continues a newer streak of radiopharmaceuticals dealmaking by other big pharma layers. Last year, Eli Lilly entered the radiopharmaceuticals space with the $1.4 billion acquisition of Point Biopharma. Bristol Myers Squibb soon followed with its $4.1 billion acquisition of RayzeBio. In March, AstraZeneca agreed to pay $2 billion to buy partner Fusion Pharmaceuticals.

Mariana was formed by the venture capital firms Atlas Ventures, Access Biotechnology, and RA Capital Management, launching in 2021 backed by $75 million in Series A financing. At that time, it was known as Curie Therapeutics. When Mariana closed its $175 million Series B financing last September, the company said it was preparing to advance MC-339 to the clinic in 2024. Besides MC-339, Mariana has not provided details about other programs in its pipeline.

sponsored content

A Deep-dive Into Specialty Pharma

A specialty drug is a class of prescription medications used to treat complex, chronic or rare medical conditions. Although this classification was originally intended to define the treatment of rare, also termed “orphan” diseases, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the US, more recently, specialty drugs have emerged as the cornerstone of treatment for chronic and complex diseases such as cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

“This acquisition of Mariana Oncology brings to Novartis phenomenal talent and new capabilities in radioligand therapeutic research that complement our wide-ranging internal research and drug discovery efforts, in addition to our translational and clinical development capabilities,” Shiva Malek, global head of oncology for biomedical research at Novartis, said in a prepared statement.

Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP, via Getty Images