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Novartis to buy Mariana Oncology in radiopharmaceutical expansion

Dive Brief:

  • Novartis is expanding its pipeline of radiopharmaceutical drugs, announcing Thursday it has agreed to pay $1 billion to acquire biotechnology company Mariana Oncology.
  • Mariana, which specializes in the targeted radiation medicines, could receive up to $750 million more from Novartis if certain milestones are met. The deal hands Novartis several drug programs, including one candidate being tested as a treatment for small cell lung cancer.
  • Novartis currently sells two approved radiopharmaceuticals, Pluvicto and Lutathera. Their success has helped spark a run of acquisitions by other large drug companies, including AstraZeneca’s planned purchase of Fusion Pharmaceuticals for $2.4 billion

Dive Insight:

Radiopharmaceuticals offer a targeted way to deliver radiation directly into tumors, avoiding some of the side effects common to traditional radiation therapy. Yet they’re difficult to manufacture, as they pair a radioactive isotope like lutetium or actinium with a targeting compound.

Novartis’ experience with Pluvicto and Lutathera reflects that reality. The company has had to overcome production challenges selling Pluvicto and Lutathera, which have proven effective and in-demand treatments for certain prostate and gut tumors.

The drugs’ overall success has sparked significant interest from other pharma companies looking to follow Novartis.

AstraZenca’s deal for Fusion was the most recent, but late last year Bristol Myers Squibb acquired RayzeBio for $4.1 billion and Eli Lilly bought Point Biopharma for $1.4 billion

To Jefferies analyst Andrew Tsai, the deals suggest that “big pharma agrees radiopharmaceuticals have potential to be commercially viable for hard-to-treat cancers and even become [first-line] therapies.”

The drugs will be “an important investment theme” this year and next, he wrote in a Thursday note to clients.

Mariana was incubated in venture firm RA Capital’s “RAVen” program and raised $250 million in two financing rounds in 2021 and last year.

The biotech’s lead candidate, dubbed MC-339, is an actinium-based radiopharmaceutical for small cell lung cancer.

“This acquisition brings to Novartis phenomenal talent and new capabilities in [radioligand therapy] research that complement our wide-ranging internal efforts to explore novel isotopes, combinations, disease areas, and more,” said Shiva Malek, Novartis’ global head of oncology for biomedical research, in a company statement Thursday.