* Trials slated to start in November
* Novartis seeks to speed up COVID-19 drug development
* Molecular Partners shares jump as much as a third
ZURICH, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Molecular Partners'
shares jumped as much as a third on Wednesday after Swiss drugs
giant Novartis inked a deal to license two of the
Zurich-based biotech company's antiviral drugs that it hopes to
use to treat COVID-19 patients.
Molecular Partners will get an upfront payment of 60 million
Swiss francs ($66.2 million), a potential milestone payment of
150 million francs, and a "significant royalty" on sales of the
drugs called MP0420 and MP0423.
Molecular Partners' shares rose more than 32% before paring
gains to about 20% at 0950 GMT, reducing their year-to-date
drop, set into motion in large part by an eye drug that failed
to win regulators' blessing, to 12%.
Novartis shares fell 1.7%, continuing their slide from
Tuesday after third-quarter sales missed expectations.
First human studies for MP0420 are expected to start in
November, Molecular Partners has said, with clinical studies for
MP0423 due to begin in the first half of 2021.
Molecular Partners struck a deal with the Swiss government
in August to reserve doses of MP0420.
"It has become increasingly clear that to tackle the
pandemic at a global level the development of medicines that can
prevent and treat the virus, in addition to the development of
vaccines, will be crucial," Novartis said.
Novartis's efforts to combat COVID-19 have focused largely
on repurposing older medicines, including its malaria drug
hydroxychloroquine that won U.S. President Donald Trump's
endorsement but flopped in trials.
Novartis does have its own COVID-19 drug-discovery
programme, but with a pair of prospective medicines due to enter
the clinic only next year, the Molecular Partners deal could
help speed up entry into the field.
Molecular Partners is seeking to regain its lustre after its
eye drug abicipar, in a partnership with U.S. drugmaker AbbVie,
failed to win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
($1 = 0.9070 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields and Mark