Purdue Strikes $790 Million Exicure Deal to Diversify

  • Oxycontin maker gains rights to gene-regulating psoriasis drug
  • Purdue isn’t interested in acquiring Depomed, CEO says

Purdue Pharma LP has struck a deal with Exicure Inc. to buy the rights to an experimental psoriasis treatment for as much as $790 million, the latest in a string of moves to diversify away from opioid pain drugs, the backbone of the company’s business.

Purdue, a closely held drugmaker based in Stamford, Connecticut, said it will co-develop Exicure’s lead drug, a topical gel for patients with psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin condition. Purdue has made an upfront payment and equity investment in Exicure, which may also receive additional milestone payments and royalties. Purdue will get full commercial rights to the drug and also has purchased rights to three additional targets.

“At the moment, we’re standing on one leg and we need to put down a few more legs to diversify,” said Mark Timney, Purdue’s chief executive officer, who came to the company in 2014 from Merck & Co. and has adopted an active dealmaking strategy. The partnership with Exicure is one of the largest alliances that Purdue has ever reached, though Timney said “this is really just the beginning for me.”

Timney wants to build up Purdue’s central nervous system portfolio and explore new technologies like Exicure’s platform, which could extend beyond dermatology, he said.

Not Interested in Depomed

He’s less interested in adding more pain drugs, for example by acquiring Newark, California-based Depomed Inc., which has been reported to be for sale.

“If you ask me outright if we are looking at Depomed as an acquisition, I’ll tell you no,” he said. Depomed shares fell 8.9 percent to $18.41 at 9:35 a.m. in New York, after earlier falling as much as 10 percent.

Depomed, with a $1.13 billion market valuation, has been said to be a target for other drugmakers. Last month, Bloomberg reported that Mallinckrodt Plc and Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo Co. were considering bids, potentially wrapping up a deal by the end of the year.

Christopher Keenan, a Depomed spokesman, declined to comment.

Exicure Technology

Exicure, a 25-person startup in Skokie, Illinois, that’s backed by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, says it’s found a way to deliver DNA or RNA directly into cells so it can control gene expression in specific targets such as skin or eye cells. Exicure’s drugs take the form of a nanoparticle sphere covered with spirals of the nucleic acids.

While Exicure’s gel targets the same biological pathway as AbbVie Inc.’s top-selling psoriasis injection Humira, the gel drug is applied directly to the skin, meaning it doesn’t have to travel through the whole body’s blood system. The drug, called AST-005, is in early-stage trials.

Besides the Exicure deal, Purdue partnered with Eisai Co. last year to develop and commercialize an experimental drug for insomnia and an irregular sleeping disorder in Alzheimer’s patients. It acquired a non-opioid chronic pain treatment from VM Pharma LLC in September 2015 and announced a collaboration to co-develop another painkiller with AnaBios Corp. on Dec. 5.

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