Swiss drug giant Novartis has bought itself an option to obtain an exclusive worldwide license to develop and commercialise Quark Pharmaceuticals’ Phase II kidney drug QPI-1002.

QPI-1002 inhibits expression of the stress-response gene p53, and is currently being developed for the prevention of acute kidney injury (AKI) in patients undergoing major cardiovascular surgery, and for the prophylaxis of delayed graft function (DGF) in those receiving deceased donor kidney transplants.

The siRNA drug, the first synthetic siRNA to be administered systemically to humans, has been awarded Orphan designation by the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency for the prophylaxis of delayed graft function in kidney transplant patients.

Novartis has shelled out $10 million for the option to license QPI-1002, and, if it decides to do so, Quark will receive option exercise fees and milestone payments that could potentially total $670 million, as well as potential royalties on sales of any licensed products.

The Fremont, California-based group is undoubtedly pleased with the news. “With its world-leading expertise in transplantation and acute care Novartis will provide invaluable support to the global development of QPI-1002”, noted Daniel Zurr, Quark’s chief executive.

Furthermore, emphasising the drug’s potential, he said the gene target of QPI-1002, p53, plays a major role in apoptotic cell death, and its temporary suppression rescues cells by preventing death in conditions of severe stress such as ischemia, “potentially opening opportunities for Novartis to novel treatments in additional indications”.