NASH: The next untapped pharma market gives investors many options

Mon Apr 24, 2017 2:00pm EDT
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By Bill Berkrot

(Reuters) - Large drugmakers with piles of cash are on the hunt for promising medicines being developed by small companies to treat NASH, a progressive fatty liver disease poised to become the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020.

The eventual market for the complex disease, formally known as Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis, is forecast to be $20 billion to $35 billion as populations with fatty diets increasingly fall victim to a condition with no approved treatments. (Graphic: The growing threat of NASH drives deals

With intense competition and pricing pressure eroding sales of medicines for diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other lucrative disease categories, and an already crowded field for developmental cancer drugs, big pharma sees NASH as an enormous new market for future profit that will accelerate a wave of deal making. For a graphic, click

"We are actively looking on the outside for opportunities... to complement our internal program," Morris Birnbaum, chief scientific officer for internal medicine for Pfizer (PFE.N: Quote), told Reuters.

Pfizer currently has three early-stage drugs in the clinic aiming to block or reverse fat accumulation in the liver. "We believe that even though we're a bit behind, we still might come out with the best-in-class molecules," Birnbaum said.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY.N: Quote) also confirmed it is looking for additional assets to enhance its internally-developed NASH drugs. It presented promising data for its lead NASH candidate at the big European liver meeting in Amsterdam that ended on Sunday.

"It's early days, but keep your seatbelts fastened," said Dr. Scott Friedman, dean for therapeutic discovery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and one of the world's leading liver disease experts.   Continued...

A researcher in a file photo.  REUTERS/File