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Pharma, Biotech Partner on Neuro Therapies in $1.1B Deal

Nerve cells illustration


20 February 2018. Voyager Therapeutics, a developer of gene therapies for neurological disorders, is collaborating with drug maker AbbVie on treatments for diseases resulting from the build-up of damaging proteins in the brain, as in Alzheimer’s disease. The agreement with AbbVie, in Chicago, could bring the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Voyager Therapeutics more than $1.1 billion if all aspects of the licensing deal are fulfilled.

Neuroscience is also one of AbbVie’s disease specialties, particularly therapies for degenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Voyager and AbbVie plan to collaborate on developing treatments to counteract the the damaging accumulation of tau proteins in the brain, a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Tau proteins occur naturally and are found in abundance, where they stabilize and provide flexibility for nerve cells. In Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, tau proteins accumulate in ways that destabilize and damage nerve cells, where the protein build-up is correlated with increasing severity of the disease and degeneration.

The two companies say their goal is to develop a one-time treatment with therapeutic antibodies, like those harnessing the immune system to treat cancer, and Voyager’s methods using benign viruses to deliver anti-tau antibodies to the brain. Voyager’s technology harnesses adeno-associated viruses to deliver healthy genetic material for expressing proteins missing from mutated or damaged genes causing inherited diseases. Adeno-associated viruses are benign, naturally occurring microbes that can infect cells, but do not integrate with the cell’s genome or cause disease, and generate a mild immune response.

In this case, adeno-associated viruses would deliver antibodies to the brain with genetic instructions to reduce tau proteins. This method, say the companies, seeks to overcome barriers that before prevented drugs in effective quantities from reaching nerve cells in the brain. “Voyager’s vectorized antibody platform,” says Jim Sullivan, AbbVie’s vice-president for drug discovery in a company statement, “presents an innovative approach to addressing challenges in treating neurological disorders associated with the administration of biologic therapies. 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.”

The agreement calls for Voyager Therapeutics to conduct preclinical research on synthetic antibodies delivered with adeno-associated viruses, from which AbbVie will select candidates for further development. Voyager will then develop each selected candidate through early-stage clinical trials. At that point, AbbVie will have the option of taking the therapy candidates through later-stage clinical trials and commercialization worldwide.

Under the deal, Voyager is receiving an initial fee of $69 million from AbbVie, and will be eligible for up to $155 million for its preclinical work and early-stage clinical trials. For the treatment candidates licensed for later-stage trials and commercialization, Voyager will be eligible for developmental and regulatory milestone payments of up to $895 million. Voyager will also be eligible for royalties on sales of products for neurodegenerative diseases from the collaboration, and the company can earn higher royalties, in exchange for taking on a share of costs for clinical trials.

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