Novartis is acquiring Corthera in a deal worth up to $620 million, which will give it access to the privately-held firm’s heart failure treatment relaxin.

Under the terms of the deal, the Swiss major will buy Corthera for an initial $120 million, while the US company’s current shareholders will be eligible to receive additional milestone payments of up to $500 million, depending on how relaxin progresses. The drug is currently in Phase III trials as a potential treatment option for patients with acute decompensated heart failure.

Novartis said that it will assume responsibility for the development and marketing of relaxin, which has been granted fast-track status by the Food and Drug Administration, with regulatory filings in the USA and Europe planned for 2013. Trevor Mundel, head of development at Novartis, noted that despite a range of current treatment options, ADHF is “the leading cause of hospitalisation in people over age 65 and remains a major clinical challenge with a high and increasing incidence and substantial morbidity and mortality”.

Novartis noted that ADHF is a condition often associated with chronic heart disease where patients typically suffer from severe shortness of breath and the heart's ability to pump blood from the lungs is impaired. Diuretics and vasodilators are the current standard of care, but the Basel-headquartered group says that available agents from these classes have been associated with renal impairment, low blood pressure and adverse outcomes.

Dr Mundel added that Relaxin “will be an important addition to our expanding pipeline of novel development projects targeting cardiovascular disease”.