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Novartis Acquires Pain Medication Developer in $200M Deal

Woman in pain

(o5com, Flickr)

29 June 2015. Global pharmaceutical company Novartis is acquiring Spinifex Pharmaceuticals Inc., a developer of new types of therapies for neuropathic pain. Spinifex reports Novartis is paying $200 million in cash for the company — based in Stamford, Connecticut and Melbourne, Australia — as well as undisclosed future milestone payments.

Spinifex Pharmaceuticals develops therapies for neuropathic pain, a complex and chronic condition caused by dysfunction or disorder in peripheral nerves, those found in motor or sensory functions, that feed into the central nervous system. The condition results from various causes — e.g., diabetes, chemotherapy for cancer, and postherpetic neuralgia from shingles — that make it difficult finding clear therapy targets, as well as translating results from preclinical tests with lab animals into clear targets for human trials.

In addition, most current drugs for neuropathic pain do not work consistently for some patients or are not well tolerated. Novartis cites data indicating 40 percent of patients with neuropathic pain do not respond to current initial treatments, and another 25 percent do not respond to follow-up treatment options.

Spinifex’s technology targets certain receptors for angiotensin II, a protein produced in the liver, then metabolized into hormones with various effects on the body, including constricting of blood vessels leading to high blood pressure and stimulation of some nerve cells, including those associated with pain. While compounds blocking receptors for some types of angiotensin II are able to relieve high blood pressure,  finding angiotensin II to control pain is proving more difficult.

Research by Maree Smith at University of Queensland in Australia succeeded in showing that a compounds can be developed that in lab animals block receptors for the variation of angiotensin II stimulating nerve cells and relieve symptoms of neuropathic and inflammatory pain. Smith’s findings are the basis of Spinfex’s technology that led to development of the company’s main product, code-named EMA401.

Later studies by Praveen Anand of Imperial College London show EMA401’s potential for blocking specific angiotensin II receptors to treat neuropathic pain.  Since these angiotensin II receptors are in the peripheral nervous system, EMA401 is not required to cross the blood-brain barrier and thus less likely to cause adverse side effects affecting the central nervous system, such as confusion or dizziness.

In February 2014, Anand and colleagues published results of a clinical trial testing EMA401 with 183 individuals having postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles causing pain severe enough to interrupt sleep and appetite.  Participants were randomly assigned to take either EMA401 in capsule form or a placebo twice a day for 28 days. The results, reported in the journal The Lancet, show participants taking EMA401 reporting lower scores on a standard pain scale than their counterparts receiving a placebo. Participants also reported no serious adverse effects from EMA401.

Spinfex is already planning further clinical trials with postherpetic neuralgia as well as diabetic nerve pain. Novartis is expected to continue these studies with the aim of developing a new product line targeting neuropathic pain.

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