- Biogen has agreed to license a program from Denali Therapeutics, with the aim of creating therapies for Alzheimer’s disease that are safer or more effective.
- The program is part of Denali’s “transport vehicle” platform, which uses drugmaking technology to shepherd large therapeutic molecules like antibodies across the so-called blood-brain barrier. Specifically, the program was designed to “increase brain exposure and target engagement” of antibodies directed against amyloid beta, a protein that many researchers believed is tied to Alzheimer’s.
- Biogen will now be responsible for developing and commercializing the program, and paying for the associated costs. While financial terms weren’t disclosed, Biogen said its partner will receive a one-time upfront payment. But, should certain milestones be achieved, Denali would also be eligible for additional payments and royalties based on future net sales of any resulting products.
Neuroscience is widely considered one of the most difficult areas of drug development, in part because the blood-brain barrier can severely limit the effectiveness of certain therapies.
In Alzheimer’s, many of the most promising experimental treatments have been laboratory-engineered antibodies. The molecules are large enough that they have difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier, and as such need to be given fairly frequently and at a high enough dose. Biogen’s newer Alzheimer’s medicine Leqembi, for example, is administered via an hour-long intravenous infusion every two weeks.
Denali, with its transport technology, has therefore become an attractive partner for large developers of brain drugs. In 2018, it linked up with Takeda Pharmaceuticals in a collaboration focused on Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders. And in 2020, it began working with Biogen.
That latter deal handed Denali $560 million up front, plus a $465 million equity investment from Biogen. In exchange, Biogen got access to some of Denali’s small-molecule drugs being tested against Parkinson’s disease, as well as an exclusive option to license two preclinical programs from the transport vehicle platform.
Dominic Walsh, head of Biogen’s neurodegenerative research unit, said in a statement Wednesday that choosing to license the amyloid beta program is “an important next step of our collaboration with Denali,” and added that the program “reinforces the importance of targeting [amyloid beta].”