RedHill Biopharma and Kukbo have signed an exclusive licence agreement for oral opaganib (ABC294640) to treat Covid-19 in South Korea.

A selective inhibitor of sphingosine kinase-2 (SK2), opaganib is claimed to have dual anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity. 

It is host-targeted and is intended to be effective against emerging variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

The oral therapy was found to have inhibition activity against variants of concern, including Delta. 

According to the deal, Kukbo will make an upfront payment of $1.5m to RedHill, which is also entitled to receive payments of up to $5.6m on meeting milestones.

RedHill will also receive low double-digit royalty payments on net product sales in South Korea. 

Furthermore, Kukbo will obtain the exclusive rights for the commercialisation of opaganib to treat Covid-19 in South Korea.

The latest agreement builds on strategic investment of up to $10m made by Kukbo in RedHill.

The collaboration with Kukbo also comprises a right of the first offer for late-stage clinical assets of RedHill in one or more of the territories of Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and/or Malaysia. 

RedHill clinical assets in the late-stage include opaganib, RHB-107 (upamostat) and Talicia. 

Under the latest licence agreement, the right of the first offer has been expanded till October. 

Kukbo CEO Hyun Ha said: “Every day this month we are seeing an average of almost 2000 people hospitalised due to Covid-19 in South Korea and we desperately need medications that can effectively treat these patients. 

“With the data supporting opaganib for Covid-19 and the expanded partnership with RedHill, Kukbo is determined to work with local regulators with the aim of bringing opaganib to South Korean patients as soon as possible.”

In a Phase II/III clinical trial data, oral opaganib was found to enhance clearance of the viral RNA, offered a substantial decline in mortality when administered along with remdesivir and corticosteroids.