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SK Biopharmaceuticals licenses out epilepsy drug candidate to Arvelle for $530m

Korean biotech company to commercialize cenobamate via US unit

SK Biopharmaceuticals has forged a licensing agreement with a Swiss drug company to commercialize cenobamate, an investigational antiepileptic drug that the South Korean company has developed over the years.

Under the agreement, the biotech arm of SK will receive a total $530 -- $100 million as an upfront payment and the rest after the drug is approved for sale. SK will also receive royalties on net sales generated in Europe, the company said.

SK’s Swiss partner Arvelle will be responsible for development and commercialization of cenobamate in 32 European countries and will work on the application for cenobamate’s approval at European Medicines Agency. 

Epilepsy, a disorder in the central neural system that results in recurrent seizures, is not a rare disease. There are more than twice as many people with epilepsy in the US as the number of people with cerebral palsy (500,000), muscular dystrophy (250,000), multiple sclerosis (350,000) and cystic fibrosis (30,000) combined, according to Epilepsy Foundation.

At least 1 million people in the US have uncontrolled epilepsy that cannot be cured with existing medication.

The global market for epilepsy treatment, according to market analysis firm Global Data, amounted to 6.8 trillion won ($6.03 billion) in 2018 and is estimated to grow to nearly 7.8 trillion won by 2021.

While collaborating with the European company for the drug’s market entry in the region, SK will develop and run clinical test of the new drug in US to maximize profit.

SK has applied for the US FDA’s approval of cenobamate, the result of which is expected in November. Commercialization of the drug in the US will be carried out by SK Group’s US arm SK Life Science.

Once cenobamate gets the green light, SK Biopharm plans to start sales in the US from 2020 and move on to Europe and eventually to Asian regions including Korea, China and Japan.

SK Biopharm is 100 percent owned by SK Corp.

Since starting novel drug development in 1993, SK has focused on treatments for central nervous system disorders. Despite uncertainties, the firm has steadfastly invested in research and development at the direction of SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, the firm said through a press release.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (