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Lilly bets on radiopharmaceuticals

Big drug maker to enter field with $1.4 billion purchase of POINT Biopharma

by Alla Katsnelson, special to C&EN
October 5, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 33


A person in a bunny suit walking through a sterile manufacturing facility.
Credit: Point Biopharma Global
In Indianapolis, Point Biopharma Global operates what it says is one of the world's largest radiopharmaceutical facilities.

Radiopharmaceuticals received a vote of confidence with Eli Lilly and Company’s announcement that it plans to acquire the radiopharma developer POINT Biopharma Global. The deal will bring Lilly two drugs in advanced clinical trials and several earlier-stage programs—as well as a specialized facility needed to create such medicines.

The $1.4 billion purchase marks Lilly’s entrance into the radiopharmaceutical space, although the pharma giant dipped its toes in the water last month by participating in a $175 million series B financing round for Mariana Oncology, whose lead candidate for small-cell lung cancer is set to enter clinical trials next year.

Lilly joins a handful of big pharma companies—notably Novartis and Bayer—that have invested in radiopharmaceuticals. Novartis received US Food and Drug Administration approval in 2018 for Lutathera, a therapy for neuroendocrine tumors, and in 2022 for Pluvicto, which treats prostate cancer. Pluvicto has done particularly well, yielding $240 million in sales in the second quarter.

These drugs will likely be competitors to POINT’s two advanced candidate therapies, which address the same indications. Clinical trial results from POINT’s prostate cancer drug are expected in the fourth quarter, and considering the timing of the acquisition, it’s likely that Lilly’s due diligence suggests its drug and Novartis’ will be comparable in efficacy, Andy T. Hsieh, a stock analyst at William Blair, wrote in an Oct. 3 note to clients.

“We are excited by the potential of this emerging modality,” says Jacob Van Naarden, president of Lilly’s oncology unit, in a press release announcing the deal, “and see the acquisition of POINT as the beginning of our investment in developing multiple meaningful radioligand medicines for hard-to-treat cancers, as we have done in small molecule and biologic oncology drug discovery and development.”

Several other biotech companies are developing radiopharmaceuticals. They include Abdera, which has a small-cell lung cancer drug that links radioisotopes to antibodies; Bicycle Therapeutics, which has partnered with Novartis to develop radioconjugates with synthetic peptides; and Artbio, which is developing multiple drug candidates using a radioactive lead isotope. The field is maturing. More than 350 clinical trials evaluating radiopharmaceuticals are in progress, Hsieh writes.

Developers are exploring different isotopes for such drugs. Most experimental therapies in clinical trials—including both of POINT’s lead candidates—use lutetium-177, though a significant number use actinium-225 or iodine-131. Some companies are also exploring lead-212 and copper-67.

But sourcing clinical-grade radioisotopes of any flavor has been a hurdle for this class of therapeutics because they need to be generated in a cyclotron or nuclear reactor. POINT has a supply deal with the German lutetium-177 producer ITM Isotope Technologies Munich. It also operates a 17,000 m2 radiopharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Indianapolis.



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