Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Inks $1B Pact With GlaxoSmithKline To Treat NASH

Multinational pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline will be tackling treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a fatty liver condition, as part of its $1 billion asset pact engagement with Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals. NASH affects millions of Americans, particularly those with obesity and/or Type-2 diabetes. It produces a fat buildup in the liver that can cause scarring and lead to severe liver damage, liver failure, or death in some cases.

Treating the condition has been a risky proposition in recent years, as poor efficacy in monotherapies and safety concerns have cut down a swath of NASH programs as they were gaining traction. Arrowhead and GlaxoSmithKline hope to turn this around with the former's experimental early clinical-stage RNAi therapy ARO-HSD, which targets a member of the hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase family called HSD17B13. Executives at Arrowhead have posited that the industry's struggle in this space is due to a wrongheaded tunnel vision for addressing liver fat that overshadows the importance of halting fibrosis. Genetic data is suggesting that not only is ARO-HSD a novel vector for dealing with the fibrosis side of the equation, but it also has the capacity to positively interact with other fibrotic liver diseases such as cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis.

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GlaxoSmithKline is optimistic that this backloaded venture will fare much better than its previous cancer-based pact with Merck. In that deal, the pharma giant put in over $4 billion and ended up with empty pockets—as well as no tangible upshot.