Novartis has acquired pain treatment specialist Spinifex Pharmaceuticals for a $200 million upfront payment.

The acquisition is centred on Spinifex’s lead candidate EMA401, an angiotensin II type 2 (AT­2) receptor antagonist. If approved, it could be a first-in-class oral treatment for chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain, without central nervous system side effects.

Tom McCarthy, Spinifex's president and chief executive officer, calls the acquisition “a testament to the significant progress our team has made in developing an entirely new approach to the treatment of chronic pain and particularly neuropathic pain”.

He adds: ­­“We share Novartis' vision that EMA401, underpinned by our deep understanding of the AT2 receptor pharmacology, has the potential to be an important new treatment option for patients suffering from these debilitating conditions."

Novartis says that it is planning to continue the development of the drug and initiate Phase IIb trials in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). EMA401 has already demonstrated positive results in PHN, which develops in some people following shingles.

The Swiss firm is also intending to pursue a broad peripheral neuropathic pain (PNP) label for the drug.

In addition to the upfront amount, Spinifex is also eligible to receive milestone payments.

The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2015.