Amarin buys Ester Neurosciences in $30m deal

Sources inform ''Globes'' that Israeli start-up Ester Neurosciences Ltd. has been acquired by Amarin Corporation plc (Nasdaq; AIM:AMRN; IEX:H2E) of the UK for at least $30 million. $15 million will be paid immediately, one third in cash and two-thirds in shares, and up to $17 million will be paid subject to Ester meeting certain milestones.

Ester Neurosciences CSO Prof. Hermona Soreq of Hebrew University founded the company together with Yissum Technology Transfer Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Yissum will receive royalties of 7% on sales of products commercialized using the company's technology. Other shareholders will receive royalties of 10% of sales or commercialization of products.

Ester is developing therapeutic products for the treatment of neurological disorders such as myasthenia gravis, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and acute stress reactions. Its first product, intended for myasthenia gravis, a fairly small market, is undergoing Phase IIa clinical trials for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Ester has raised $10 million from Yissum, Aurum Venture MKI Ltd., Medica Venture Partners, Bioville (owned by the Mayer family), and Israel-United States Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD-F).

"Globes": Why did you choose the small indication, when, in theory, your product is also suited for huge markets, like Alzheimer's?

Soreq: "Our capital is limited, and myasthenia gravis is easy to examine because it's linked to muscle tone. The test for muscle tension is immediate and unequivocal. Our first trial included testing of patients and we saw an immediate improvement in muscle tension."

Soreq added that Ester would become a part of Amarin and would not remain independent, although its R&D center would remain in Israel for now, at least.

Amarin was founded by former managers of Ireland's Elan Corporation plc (NYSE; IEX: ELN; LSE:ELA), and has five drugs in clinical trials. The company has a market cap of $35 million.

Market sources were surprised at the low price Ester Neurosciences obtained, relative to the clinical stage of its drug. The price tag was apparently derived from the small niche market for the drug's first indication.