Novartis Didn't Know JAK, Until Now

Incyte (Nasdaq: INCY  ) has something to be thankful for this week. Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) is giving the company a wad of cash to license its most promising drug candidate.

The drug, INCB18424, is an inhibitor of JAK1 and JAK2, two proteins involved in signaling in the cell with inflammatory diseases and cancer. The drug is already in phase 3 trials for patients with myelofibrosis, a bone marrow disease. For $210 million now and up to $1.1 billion in future milestone payments, Incyte only had to give up the rights to the drug outside the U.S. Plus, it'll get double-digit royalties on those sales.

Myelofibrosis isn't that common of a disease, so retaining the U.S. rights and fielding its own sales force in the States seems like a good move by Incyte. Novartis has plenty of experience launching oncology drugs, so it makes for a good excluding-the-U.S. partner.

Incyte did have to throw in a preclinical cancer drug, INCB28060, to sweeten the deal. Novartis gets worldwide rights to the potential cancer drug, although Incyte retained an option to co-promote the drug if it makes it onto the market.

Incyte is also developing a topical version of INCB18424 for treatment of psoriasis, which wasn't included as part of this deal. The phase 2 data looked good, and if the drug can get through phase 3 development, it should have a good chance at competing with Abbott Labs' (NYSE: ABT  ) Humira, Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) and Amgen's (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) Enbrel, and Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE: JNJ  ) Remicade, all of which have to be injected or transfused. Applying INCB18424 directly to the skin should be more acceptable to patients than being poked with needles.

While the partnership looks like a good deal for Incyte, the company doesn't look like much of a Black Friday bargain, with a market cap of $1 billion and no drugs on the market. With the money from Novartis, Incyte shouldn't have much problem getting through phase 3 trials for INCB18424 and the company certainly will be worth more if it can get a drug on the market. I'm just not convinced the reward right now is worth any risk of failure for INCB18424.

Then again, maybe it's just me who doesn't know Jack.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation, Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor pick, and Novartis is a Global Gains recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is available for the low, low price of a click.


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  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 4:51 PM, MaxTheTerrible wrote:

    It may not be a bargain anymore, but I would still think hard and long before discarding this company as a potential investment (even at today's prices). Their patent portfolio is very strong (which is not always the case with small pharma), raising potential for further deals with other companies...

    Disclaimer: I do own shares of INCY.

  • Report this Comment On November 25, 2009, at 5:26 PM, TMFBiologyFool wrote:

    Max,

    You're right about the pipeline, including an oral RA drug that could easily be a blockbuster.

    I'm just not sure Incyte is worth as much as other investors seem to think it is. With the new cash, the enterprise value is still around $800 million or so (it has quite a bit of debt). That doesn't leave much room for error.

    -Brian

  • Report this Comment On December 21, 2009, at 9:38 AM, MaxTheTerrible wrote:
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