ZURICH, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Roche is offloading some rights to what was once one of its top drug prospects, lebrikizumab, for payments which could total more than $1 billion after the medicine produced only lacklustre results in an asthma study last year. The Basel-based drugmaker had said in February 2016 that the monoclonal antibody targeting the so-called Interleukin 13 protein hit its goal in just one of two identical Phase III studies - dashing its hopes that late-stage studies would provide a clear path forward after promising earlier trials.
California-based Dermira said on Tuesday it was licensing exclusive worldwide rights to pursue the drug in atopic dermatitis, which causes itchy, inflamed skin.
Dermira will make initial payments to Roche totalling $135 million for the rights, followed by additional sums which could be more than $1 billion if its trials of the drug, on which it plans to spend about $200 million in a Phase IIB study, hit certain milestones.
“Data from preclinical and clinical studies ... are encouraging and suggest higher doses of lebrikizumab could lead to greater efficacy in atopic dermatitis," said Eugene Bauer, chief medical officer of Dermira, in a statement.
The Roche asthma trial disappointment in 2016 foreshadowed a similar outcome for an investigational drug from AstraZeneca that also failed to meet its goal of significantly reducing asthma attacks.
Roche retains exclusive rights to lebrikizumab for lung diseases like idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It expects to seek approval for that indication with drug regulators beyond 2019, according to its latest pipeline publication. (Reporting by John Miller; Editing by David Holmes)