Achievement of development, approval, and sales milestones would mean another $500 million in payments.

Novartis is buying Corthera Pharmaceuticals for $120 million to get its hands on the latter’s Phase III heart-failure drug Relaxin. Corthera’s current shareholders could be eligible to split another $500 million dependent on clinical milestones, regulatory approval, and commercialization targets.

Under the terms of the deal, Novartis will have exclusive, worldwide rights to Relaxin, except Australia and Canada. It will take over full responsibility for developing and commercializing the drug. The naturally occurring peptide hormone is being evaluated for treating patients with acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF). Novartis anticipates making regulatory submissions in the U.S. and Europe during 2013. FDA granted Relaxin fast track status in October.

“Relaxin will be an important addition to our expanding pipeline of novel development projects targeting cardiovascular disease,” remarks Trevor Mundel, M.D., Novartis global head of development. The company’s pipeline includes LCZ 696, a single-molecule, dual-acting angiotensin receptor blocker/neprilysin inhibitor, which recently started in Phase III trials for systolic heart failure. LCI699 is a Phase II-stage aldosterone synthase inhibitor in development as a potential treatment for heart failure. Elinogrel is an antiplatelet agent in Phase II for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The firm’s existing cardiovascular portfolio includes hypertension drugs Diovan, Exforge, and Tekturna/Rasilez. Exforge comprises a combination of Diovan and the calcium channel blocker amlodipine. Exforge HCT, which adds a diuretic to the Diovan-amlopidine combination, was launched in the U.S. after regulatory approval in April. Valturna, a single-pill combination of Tekturna/Rasilez and Diovan, was approved in the U.S. in September. Rasilez was launched in Japan in October.

Diovan achieved sales of $4.4 billion in the first nine months of 2009, up 5% from the first nine months of 2008. Sales of Tekturna/Rasilez in the first three quarters of this year were $202 million, up 114%. Exforge achieved sales of $475 million during this period, up 81% from last year’s first three quarters.

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