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Novartis lights up radiopharmaceuticals again

The $1bn price tag for the preclinical Mariana Oncology shows that competition for assets in this space is fierce.

Novartis’s radiopharmaceutical business development team must be one of the busiest in biopharma. In the wake of a string of licensing deals comes news of the Swiss developer’s biggest bet in this field since it spent $2.1bn buying Endocyte in 2018. 

Mariana Oncology is a preclinical company, a fact that makes the $1bn up-front payment sound steep. However, the group claims to be able to address two bottlenecks – manufacturing capability and isotope supply chain – attributes that would have helped around the negotiating table. 

With several big pharma groups moving into this space, competition surely helped drive up the buyout price. Novartis has agreed to pay a further $750m in potential milestones. 

Novartis has licensed in several different types of peptide technologies in this space, only this week expanding a deal with PeptiDream to explore macrocyclic peptide conjugates for potential conjugation to radionuclides. It is also working with Molecular Partners over Darpin-conjugated radioligands, and exploring Bicycle Therapeutics’ bicyclic peptides as potential radioconjugates. 

Mariana says it uses macrocyclic peptide-based drug discovery among other approaches and has explored using both alpha and beta radionuclide payloads. 

It has only disclosed one research project, MC-339, which is in preclinical development. The company describes this is as peptidic small molecule engineered to carry an actinium payload, although it hasn't disclosed its target. The disease focus, however, is small cell lung cancer, a rare but aggressive disease with few treatment options. 

Mariana was only founded in 2021, and the venture firms that ploughed $175m into the group last year as part of a Series B financing will be celebrating this payday. With big pharma hungry for assets, this is unlikely to be the last transaction in this space this year. 


Big radiopharmaceutical deals

BuyerTarget Up-front cost Year
LillyPoint Biopharma$1.4bn2023
NovartisMariana Oncology$1.0bn2024

Source: OncologyPipeline.