H4 receptor antagonist is in Phase II development

Novartis is buying Ziarco Group, a U.K.-based dermatology therapeutics firm, in order to acquire a pipeline of oral and topical products for the treatment of atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. Ziarco’s lead candidate, ZPL-389, is a once-daily oral H4 receptor antagonist in Phase II development for atopic dermatitis. The drug is separately undergoing a Phase IIa proof-of-concept study in psoriasis.

Novartis says acquisition of the potentially first-in-class therapy will bolster its own dermatology portfolio and pipeline. Ziarco has completed a Phase IIa proof-of-concept study with ZPL-389. The trial in 98 adult patients showed that eight weeks of treatment with the drug resulted in a 50% reduction in the Eczema Area and Severity Index (EASI) score, and statistically significant improvements in Scoring Atopic Dermatitis (SCORAD) and body surface area (BSA) scores. The Phase IIa study was supported by a £1.7 million ($2.1 million) grant from the U.K.’s Technology Strategy Board.

In 2014 Ziarco raised $33.1 million in a Series B financing round to fund Phase II development of its pipeline, which also includes ZPL-521, a cPLA2 inhibitor in development as a topical treatment for atopic dermatitis. Ziarco maintains that inhibiting cPLA2a could block key inflammatory mediators. Phase I/IIa studies are projected for 2017.

“There is an unmet need for innovative, effective and safe oral treatment options for people living with eczema,” said Vasant Narasimhan, global head, drug development and CMO at Novartis. “…  we're excited about a potential new medicine for people with eczema through the acquisition of Ziarco and the addition of a first-in-class oral H4 receptor antagonist to our growing pipeline.”

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