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Ionis (IONS) Clinches Licensing Agreement with AstraZeneca


Ionis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. IONS recently inked a licensing deal with AstraZeneca Plc AZN. Per the deal, Ionis has licensed IONIS-AZ6-2.5-LRx, or AZD2693, to AstraZeneca for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), or fatty liver. AstraZeneca will be responsible for further development and commercialization of IONIS-AZ6-2.5-LRx.

Ionis will receive a $30-million license fee from AstraZeneca. Ionis will be entitled to up to $300 million for additional development and regulatory milestone payments, as well tiered royalties up to the low teens from the sales of the drug.

Over a year, shares of Ionis have increased to 6.3%, at par with the industry.

IONIS-AZ6-2.5-LRx is the third drug to enter development under strategic cardiovascular-renal-metabolic collaboration with AstraZeneca. The candidate incorporates many of the advancements that Ionis has made in antisense technology, including the company’s Ligand-Conjugated Antisense and Generation 2.5 chemistry, and is the second drug in collaboration to incorporate both modifications.

AstraZeneca has played a strategic role in advancing IONIS-AZ6-2.5-LRx by providing both preclinical and development expertise in NASH that has contributed to the rapid advance of this drug into development. Ionis believes that AstraZeneca will move this program swiftly into clinical testing and ultimately to the market.

AstraZeneca and Ionis have a strategic alliance focused on leveraging antisense technology. The collaboration builds on a strong existing relationship between the two companies and is supported by Ionis' expertise in cardiovascular disease and antisense technology and AstraZeneca's drug development expertise and infrastructure.

We note that investors have been investing a substantial portion of their R&D sources for the treatment of Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH). Another company, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company BMY is progressing its pipeline candidate FGF21 for the treatment of NASH.

Zacks Rank and Stocks to Consider

Ionis carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Another better-ranked stock from the same space is Ligand Pharmaceuticals LGND sporting a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

Ligand’s earnings per share estimates have moved up $3.78 to $4.20 from $4.75 to $5.32 for 2018 and 2019, respectively, over the last 60 days. The company delivered a positive earnings surprise in three of the trailing four quarters, with an average beat of 24.88%. The company’s shares have rallied 50.2% over a year.

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