Eli Lilly has partnered with Radionetics Oncology in a $140m deal, as the drugmaker aims to get a leg up in the burgeoning radiopharmaceuticals arena.

In addition to the upfront payment, the agreement also gives Eli Lilly the exclusive option to buy the radiopharmaceutical specialist for $1bn once the exercise period finishes, as per a 1 July press release.

Radionetics, which spun off from Crinetics in 2021, focuses on developing small molecule G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR)-targeted drugs. The biotech said it will continue to advance its pipeline of radioligands during the exercise period using its platform which consists of small molecules tethered to radioisotopes. The resulting candidates are designed to bind to receptors overexpressed in certain cancers.

Radionetics, which has raised a total of $82.5m in venture financing, has a single candidate in clinical trials, Ga-R8760. The radioligand is being evaluated in a  Phase I trial (NCT05999292) in patients diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma. However, in a statement announcing the first patient being dosed in the trial, the biotech said it plans to have three clinical programmes underway by 2024.

The deal marks the latest push by Eli Lilly into the radiopharmaceuticals space. The company spent $1.4bn to buy POINT Biopharma in October 2023, gaining two late-stage clinical programmes and an 180,000 ft2 radiopharmaceutical manufacturing plant in the US.

This was then consolidated by Eli Lilly’s partnership with Aktis in May this year. The deal included a $60m upfront payment and $1.1bn in milestone payments and royalties.

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Radionetics CEO Paul Grayson said: “We are fortunate to have entered into an agreement with Lilly given its global development capability, oncology expertise, and the radiopharmaceutical experience and capabilities Lilly is building following the acquisition of POINT Biopharma.”

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) also made a big sign of its intent in this arena when it dropped $4.2bn to acquire RayzeBio in February this year. Novartis also ventured into the radioactive drug landscape when it bought Mariana Oncology in a $1.75bn transaction.

Venture financing for US-based companies with radiopharmaceutical drugs saw a rise of 550% between 2017 and 2023, according to GlobalData.

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