Allergan taps CRISPR biotech Editas in eye care deal

Dive Brief:

  • Editas Medicine on Mar. 14 struck a collaboration deal with the Irish pharma Allergan, securing $90 million upfront to help speed its gene-editing ocular programs into the clinic.
  • As part of the agreement, Allergan gains exclusive access and an option to license up to five of Editas' eye-disease candidates, including the Cambridge biotech's lead program in Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA10).
  • The news drove shares of Editas up by more than 7% in Tuesday morning trading. Editas, which is one of several biotechs pushing CRISPR gene-editing technology towards the clinic, was boosted last month by a favorable verdict from the U.S. Patent Office on competing patent claims for the CRISPR tech.

Dive Insight:

Editas' deal with Allergan is the biotech's second major partnership, following an existing agreement with Juno Therapeutics focused on T cell therapies in oncology.

While milestone payments tied to development of LCA10 and other programs were not disclosed, the $90 million upfront is one of the richer cash commitments seen so far in the handful of deals struck by the three leading CRISPR biotechs. Intellia Therapeutics and CRISPR Therapeutics have both inked agreements delivering $75 million in upfront money, and Bayer has committed $300 million in funding for a joint venture with CRISPR Therapeutics. Other deals, including Editas' prior deal with Juno, have been weighted much more heavily towards milestone payments.

Allergan's willingness to commit $90 million upfront can be seen as a reflection of both the ongoing maturation of the CRISPR platform in a therapeutic context and in terms of the fit between Editas' work and Allergan's eye care portfolio.

For Allergan, this further builds on its eye care business, which it has made a main focus since it merged with Actavis in 2015. The company has been making a slew of deals in the space. The specialty pharma bought gene editing company RetroSense Therapeutics in September 2016 for $60 million upfront to build out its portfolio, adding on to the $95 million deal it struck for ForSight VISION5. The comapny also recently launched the Eyepowerment campaign to raise awareness about dry eye symptoms and further bolster its blockbuster Restasis.

The Broad Institute's victory over the University of California in the hotly contested interference proceedings over the foundational intellectual property for CRISPR doesn't hurt matters either. Editas licenses its CRISPR technology from the Broad.

Editas' most advanced ocular program is the aforementioned gene-therapy candidate for LCA10, a genetic form of vision loss that leads to blindness in childhood. Editas expects to launch a natural history study of LCA10 by mid-year, and is preparing to file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application for the program by year end.

The $90 million will give Editas more firepower to accelerate development of both the LCA10 program and proof-of-concept work for other preclinical programs.

Per the deal, Allergan can choose to license the LCA10 program and up to four others, paying development and commercial milestone payments on a per-program basis. Editas retains the right to co-develop and co-promote two optioned programs in the U.S.

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Filed Under: Corporate News