- AbbVie Inc. and Voyager Therapeutics Inc. have entered a research collaboration focused on developing gene therapies that diminish the pathology of Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders after a single treatment.
- Using Voyager's technology, the companies are looking to create adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors that deliver genetic instructions for how to make anti-tau antibodies inside the brain. Tau is a protein responsible for stabilizing microtubules under normal conditions. But if it mutates, the protein can form aggregates that scientists hypothesize lead to cognitive impairment.
- Deal terms put Voyager in charge of drug discovery and development through Phase 1, after which AbbVie can license the vectorized tau antibody program and helm further research and commercialization. Voyager is taking home $69 million upfront and potentially more than $1 billion in milestones, including $155 million related to preclinical and Phase 1 option payments.
Alzheimer's has proven itself a notoriously difficult disease to tackle. In the last two months alone, Merck & Co., Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH and Axovant Sciences Ltd. all shuttered either trials or entire programs for their respective Alzheimer's disease candidates. The track record in the space is so bad, in fact, that the Food and Drug Administration issued fresh guidance earlier in February that, in essence, encouraged drugmakers to keep up the good fight.
AbbVie looks ready to do just that. The North Chicago-based pharma has been building out a foundation in Alzheimer's drug development since 2015, when it inked a deal with C2N Diagnostics LLC. Financial terms weren't disclosed, but the agreement handed AbbVie an exclusive worldwide license to develop and commercialize a portfolio of anti-tau antibodies to treat Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
In October, AbbVie continued its pursuits by partnering with private biotech Alector LLC. For a $205 million upfront payment, Alector agreed to use its technology to research immuno-neurology treatments for a variety of antibody targets, including ones for Alzheimer's. Similar to the Voyager deal, Alector was responsible for developing the potential drugs through proof-of-concept, while AbbVie would take the reins on the more advanced R&D work.
The multiple deals inject diversity into AbbVie's Alzheimer's pipeline, which will likely come in handy given the high risk of failure in the space. While tau and its relationship to Alzheimer's is of obvious interest, the pharma now has several modes through which it can target those proteins, such as gene therapy and immune modulation.
"Voyager's vectorized antibody platform presents an innovative approach to addressing challenges in treating neurological disorders associated with the administration of biologic therapies," said Jim Sullivan, VP of pharmaceutical discovery at AbbVie, in a Feb. 20 statement. "This collaboration has the potential to address the needs of patients who live with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, progressive supranuclear palsy and frontotemporal dementia."
AbbVie shares were down less than 1% to $117.72 apiece at market's open Monday, but climbed to almost $120 apiece by late morning. Voyager's shares, meanwhile, began trading at $21.67 apiece, up about 12%.