Gilead Sciences has hit the acquisition trail to acquire investigational liver disease drugs from privately-held German biotech Phenex Pharmaceuticals.

Gilead is buying Phenex’ farnesoid X receptor (FXR) agonists for diseases including non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). It will pay an undisclosed upfront pfee plus additional payments which may potentially be worth up to $470 million.

NASH is a common, serious chronic disease characterised by inflammation and excessive fat accumulation in the liver. It may lead to progressive fibrosis, cirrhosis and liver failure and is estimated to affect 10-20% of people in the developed world. There are currently no approved therapies.

Gilead R&D chief Norbert Bischofberger said the acquisition of the FXR programme represents an important opportunity to accelerate development of new treatment options that address fibrotic liver diseases”. He added that the firm plans to advance the project into clinical development “as quickly as possible”.

Phenex chief executive Claus Kremoser said that after 15 years of study, “FXR is now one of the few clinically validated targets for NASH and we are delighted that Gilead will be continuing the research necessary to more fully realise its potential for advanced liver disease”.

CVS deal boost

News of the Phenex deal came after CVS, the USA’s second largest pharmacy benefit manager, said Gilead’s Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir) would be its exclusive treatment options for hepatitis C.

The move will help to soften the blow the company suffered last month after the largest PBM, Express Scripts, granted exclusivity to AbbVie’s newly-launched rival HCV combo Viekira Pak (ombitasvir/paritaprevir/dasabuvir).