- AbbVie Inc. is diving deeper into Alzheimer's drug development, announcing on Tuesday it will team up with private biotech Alector LLC to advance immuno-neurology treatments for the disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
- Through their partnership, the companies will research a variety of antibody targets, with a specific focus on potential treatments for Alzheimer's. Alector's technology platform centers on using the immune system against illnesses that deteriorate the nervous system — a science that attracted AbbVie, which has agreed to pay $205 million upfront for the option to rights to two of the antibody targets.
- Alector is responsible for exploratory research and drug development through proof-of-concept investigations, while AbbVie will take the helm once it exercises its option. The companies plan to jointly finance development costs and split any global profits equally. Alector may also receive a future equity investment worth up to $20 million.
Medivation Inc.'s Dimebon (latrepiridine). Lundbeck A/S and Myriad Genetics Inc.'s Flurizan (tarenflurbil). Eli Lilly & Co.'s solanezumab. All were promising Alzheimer's disease therapies, and all crashed in late-stage testing.
Those failures — and scores of others — have secured Alzheimer's as one of the riskiest areas of drug development across the industry. AbbVie's stock appeared to reflect that, with shares down 2.5% to $91.69 apiece Tuesday following the Alector announcement.
In spite of investor worries, the AbbVie has shown confidence in Alector's potential. The big drugmaker's venture capital arm, AbbVie Ventures, was one of the backers in Alector's $29.5 million Series D financing round.
"Alzheimer's is among the most difficult-to-treat diseases and there is an urgent need for new scientific approaches that lead to better therapies for patients," AbbVie's Jim Sullivan, vice president of pharmaceutical discovery, said in an Oct. 24 statement. "Alector's unique approach to engaging the immune system to combat neurodegeneration reflects our commitment to target this epidemic in new ways."
Alector's CEO Arnon Rosenthal also believes in its game-changing nature of immuno-neurology treatments, likening them to other therapeutics areas like cancer where harnessing the immune system has resulted in market-disrupting products.
The global immuno-oncology market, in fact, is slated to reach nearly $120 billion by 2021, up from $62 billion in 2016, according to recent research from MarketsandMarkets. Meanwhile, a Dec. 2016 report from GBI Research estimated the global neurodegenerative drug market will rise at a compounded annual growth rate of 7.42% from 2015 to 2022, reaching $45 billion in value by the out year.
"We anticipate that immuno-neurology therapies will have as much of an impact on brain disorders as immuno-oncology is having on cancer," Rosenthal said in the statement.
The partnership with Alector also underscores AbbVie more recent commitments to neurodegenerative medicine. In March 2015, the company handed over $100 million upfront to C2N Diagnostics in exchange for rights to anti-tau antibodies for Alzheimer's disease and other neurological conditions.
Less than a year earlier, AbbVie and Calico LLC entered an R&D collaboration focused on novel treatments for age-related diseases such as neurodegeneration. Per deal terms, each party paid an upfront cost of $250 million and could potentially spend another $500 million. Calico is in charge of early R&D, while AbbVie can exclusively license drugs coming from the collaboration following Phase 2a testing.