Novartis, Molecular Partners ink potential $230 mln deal for COVID-19 candidates


Adds details, comment from Novartis

ZURICH, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Novartis NOVN.S has licensed global rights to two Molecular Partners' MOLN.S antiviral drugs that have potential to treat COVID-19 patients, the two companies said on Wednesday.

Molecular Partners will get an upfront payment of 60 million Swiss francs ($66.2 million), a potential milestone payment of 150 million francs, and a "significant royalty" on sales of the drugs called MP0420 and MP0423.

First-in-human studies for MP0420 are expected to start in November, Molecular Partners has said, with clinical studies for the second antiviral candidate, MP0423, due to begin in the first half of 2021. Previously, Molecular Partners got a “high single digit millions” of Swiss francs payment from the Swiss government to reserve doses of MP0420.

"It has become increasingly clear that to tackle the pandemic at a global level the development of medicines that can prevent and treat the virus, in addition to the development of vaccines, will be crucial," Novartis said in a statement.

Until now, Novartis's efforts to combat COVID-19 have including a failed bid to repurpose older medicines against COVID-19, including its malaria drug hydroxychloroquine that won U.S. President Donald Trump's endorsement but flopped in randomized clinical trials.

Molecular Partners is seeking to rebound after its eye drug abicipar, in a partnership with U.S. drugmaker AbbVie, failed to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for blindness-causing macular degeneration.

($1 = 0.9070 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields)

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