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Roche buys into Blueprint’s RET inhibitor

The deal positions pralsetinib to compete against Lilly’s Retevmo

by Lisa M. Jarvis
July 18, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 28


The chemical structure of pralsetinib.

Roche is investing $775 million in cash and equity for access to Blueprint Medicines’ oncology drug candidate pralsetinib, which is under review by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Pralsetinib is a small-molecule inhibitor of RET alterations—rare genetic fusions or mutations that occur at low levels across lung, thyroid, and many other cancers.

The drug will go up against Eli Lilly and Company’s Retevmo, an RET inhibitor that received FDA approval in May for certain lung and thyroid cancers. Lilly acquired Retevmo in its $8 billion purchase of Loxo Oncology in 2019, a deal to obtain Loxo’s pipeline of small molecules for genetically defined tumors.

But SVB Leerink analyst Andrew Berens points out that Retevmo has side effects: it can cause an irregular heart rhythm called QT prolongation and hemorrhagic events. That leaves room for pralsetinib, which Roche will be better able to get in front of oncologists, Berens argues. In addition to a vast commercial network, Roche brings diagnostic tools to help identify cancer patients whose tumors feature RET alterations.

The FDA has a deadline of Nov. 23 to decide on approving the drug for lung cancer.

Roche’s move lowers the likelihood of a takeover of Blueprint, which had appeared on many investors’ short lists of acquisition targets. “We were surprised by the profuse language framing this deal as ensuring Blueprint’s independence,” Piper Sandler stock analyst Christopher J. Raymond told investors in a note.



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