May 24, 2017 / 9:53 AM / in 7 months

Molecular Partners CEO considers partners, capital hike to boost cash

ZURICH (Reuters) - Molecular Partners (MOLN.S) could sell more shares or seek a partner for one of its pipeline assets to refill the Swiss biotechnology company’s coffers by 2019, Chief Executive Patrick Amstutz told Reuters.

The logo of Swiss biotechnology company Molecular Partners is seen in Schlieren, Switzerland May 23, 2017. Picture taken May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

By then, Amstutz will likely spend much of his 169.2 million Swiss francs ($174.29 million) in reserves as Molecular Partners pursues drugs for eye diseases with partner Allergan (AGN.N) as well as cancer with its earlier-stage oncology portfolio.

After adding billionaire Hansjoerg Wyss as a 10 percent investor in April when Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and others shed stakes, Amstutz is counting on trial results over the next 18 months to pique the interest of additional backers, be they shareholders or companies hunting drug candidates.

“We can choose to sell either assets or shares,” Amstutz, a co-founder, told Reuters in an interview. “The good thing is we have a number of read-outs until 2019.”

Headquartered near Zurich, Molecular Partners’ focus on eye diseases and oncology puts it into crowded markets dominated by drug giants.

Abicipar, its drug with Allergan in Phase III trials against age-related blindness, aims to challenge Lucentis from Roche (ROG.S) and Novartis (NOVN.S), and Bayer-Regeneron’s Eylea. Those drugs have $8 billion in combined sales.

Moreover, Novartis is developing another potential blockbuster, RTH258, for the same disease area.

Amstutz is counting on Abicipar winning over doctors and patients with fewer injections -- like Lucentis and Eylea, it is administered via a shot directly into the eye -- and a dosing schedule that trims physician visits.

There have been setbacks: Inflammation in a tenth of patients caused an 18-month delay for Allergan in 2013.

“Since then, they have improved the formulation significantly,” Amstutz said, adding one-year Phase III trial efficacy data is due next year.


    To help advance its oncology portfolio, Molecular Partners added former Genentech drug developer Gwen Fyfe to its board this month.

    One of its top prospects, MP0250, for diseases like multiple myeloma, has entered Phase II trials on patients whose disease is resistant to Takeda’s (4502.T) Velcade.

    If Amstutz succeeds in expanding MP0250’s trials to additional tumour types, as he intends, that would likely break Molecular Partners’ go-it-alone R&D budget. A partnership would be virtually unavoidable.

    To that end, Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ.N) $30 billion takeover of Actelion ATLN.S boosts his optimism that Switzerland is on the radar screen of big companies and investors in hot pursuit of assets beyond the biotech hubs Boston and San Francisco.

    “There are two ways to get new money: Either it is asset dilutive or share dilutive,” said Amstutz. “We’ll definitely balance that very carefully with the aim to remain in a strong cash position.”

    Reporting by John Miller and Paul Arnold, editing by David Evans

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