Bayer’s recent €736M ($875M) acquisition of KaNDy Therapeutics could herald growing investor interest in women’s health – a historically neglected field in the biotech and pharma industry.
Through this deal, Bayer has snapped up KaNDy Therapeutics’ first-in-class drug for treating hot flashes and night sweats, which often occur during the menopause. In a phase IIb trial in January, the drug improved the sleep and quality of life of women with the menopause.
While women can already take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to address many menopausal symptoms, this treatment isn’t suitable for all patients and can also increase the risk of heart disease and breast cancer. KaNDy Therapeutics’ drug is designed to clamp down on the firing of brain cells in the brain’s ‘thermostat’ region, reducing night sweats without the need for hormones.
“A non-hormonal treatment for the female menopause has been something of a holy grail in the field,” said Kaasim Mahmood, General Partner at Advent Life Sciences, which holds KaNDy Therapeutics on its portfolio. “The phase IIb clinical data obtained by KaNDy Therapeutics suggest that this may now be achievable and so provide a boost to the field.”
Bayer plans to launch a phase III trial of KaNDy Therapeutics’ lead candidate in 2021 and is confident that the drug could bag the big pharma company more than €1B globally once approved. In return, KaNDy Therapeutics is eligible for €357M upfront and up to €378M in undisclosed milestone payments.
Bayer is a big player in women’s health, with other recent activity including a licensing deal in January for a non-hormonal contraceptive developed by the US company Daré Bioscience. Its acquisition of KaNDy Therapeutics is one of the largest deals in the European women’s health field since Astellas (Japan) bought Ogeda (Belgium) for €800M in 2017.
“Many conditions under the umbrella of women’s health have not been considered as serious diseases, such as symptoms of the menopause, and so women’s health has been under-funded for many years,” said Mary Kerr, KaNDy Therapeutics’ CEO.
“This deal with Bayer is significant, not only for women and women’s health, but for UK and European biotech, and we are hopeful this agreement will encourage investment back into Research & Development in this area of public health and spark innovation.”
One reason for the lack of investor interest in women’s health companies was the release of a report in 2002 that outlined the breast cancer and cardiovascular HRT risks. This scared away many would-be investors. Another reason is that the main women’s health disorders can be very complex.
“Basic medical research has not yet revealed new targets and intervention points, and so with the modern paradigm of target-based drug discovery, there has not been an intense effort within pharma in this area,” Mahmood told me.
However, Bayer’s recent takeover of KaNDy Therapeutics, in addition to Astellas’ huge deal with Ogeda, could turn the tide and attract more investment.
There are many European biotech startups active in the women’s health field. One example is Oxolife (Spain), which raised €5M in June to fund a phase II trial of a first-in-class infertility treatment that improves the ability of an embryo to implant in the womb. Another is Gedea Biotech (Sweden), whose vaginal tablet is designed to prevent bacterial vaginosis more effectively than antibiotics.
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