- Biogen will work with Germany's ViGeneron to develop gene therapies for inherited eye diseases, part of the big biotech's plan to diversify its drug pipeline by increasing research in ophthalmology.
- Per deal terms, ViGeneron is responsible for early test-tube studies on therapeutic candidates and will work together with Biogen on animal tests. Biogen would then take over for further development in human clinical trials and, should tests succeed, commercialization.
- The Munich-based company will receive an undisclosed upfront payment as well as funds for research and development. ViGeneron is also in line to receive development milestone payments and royalties on any eventual sales.
Biogen is at a crossroads, awaiting a regulatory decision on the Alzheimer's drug aducanumab by early March that will have wide-ranging implications for the biotech's future.
But while aducanumab's fate hangs in the balance, Biogen has been stocking up on other early-stage assets, aiming to diversify its portfolio beyond risky neuroscience bets. Company executives in 2019 said they were putting more emphasis on ophthalmology and immunology, for instance, and that same year, the company spent $800 million on an acquisition of the eye gene therapy company Nightstar Therapeutics.
ViGeneron offers a novel technology for harnessing adeno-associated virus vectors to treat eye disease. Its vgAAV vectors are designed to get around some of the limits of the standard gene therapy delivery tools and target a variety of different cell types. The two companies noted the technology's potential to more efficiently transduce retinal cells via eye injections, which in theory could lead to more potent treatments.
The company is still fairly new, however, having being spun off in 2017 by Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. Its investors include WuXi AppTec and Sequoia Capital China. None of its experimental treatments, led by a gene therapy for retinitis pigmentosa, are in human testing.
The deal is another bet by Biogen on genetic medicine. Earlier this year, the biotech formed a gene editing alliance with Sangamo Therapeutics that could be worth billions of dollars.
Still, investors at the moment are most focused on aducanumab. The roller coaster ride for the drug began in March 2019, when the drug appeared to have failed two clinical trials. Seven months later, however, the company said a further analysis showed significant benefits for a high dose in one clinical trial, and the Food and Drug Administration agreed to review the medicine.
In November 2020, the FDA convened a panel of outside experts, whose review was overwhelmingly negative. Panelists criticized the agency for being too optimistic about Biogen's data and voted near-unanimously against approving the drug.
The committee's vote isn't binding for the FDA, though the agency typically follows its advice. Regulators are due to make their final decision on aducanumab by March 7.