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Harvard Spin-Off, AbbVie Partner on Fibrosis Treatments



18 Oct. 2018. Drug maker AbbVie and biotechnology company Morphic Therapeutic are collaborating on new treatments for fibrosis based on Morphic’s technology blocking proteins that promote fibrosis. The deal, which could give AbbVie an exclusive license to Morphic’s technology for fibrosis treatments, provides Morphic with an immediate payment of $100 million.

Morphic Therapeutic, in Waltham, Massachusetts, creates small molecule, or low molecular weight, treatments that block the activity of integrins, a class of proteins in humans and other animals that attach cell skeletons to the extracellular matrix, the network of molecules providing structural and biochemical support for cells. Integrins provide signaling pathways going into the cell from outside, and out of the cell from inside, acting as receptors for binding molecules affecting cell activities, as well as other proteins. Many biological processes function normally with integrins, but when integrins send aberrant signals, a number of diseases can result.

Timothy Springer, an immunologist and biophysicist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, has studied integrins since the 1980s. His lab’s research led to early treatments — administered with injections — already approved to address integrins associated with a number of diseases: multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, plaque psoriasis, acute coronary syndrome, and complications during procedures implanting a stent to open arteries. Springer founded Morphic Therapeutic to bring to market more recent research with small molecule compounds that could lead to oral drugs rather than injections.

The agreement offers AbbVie, based in Chicago, access to Morphic’s integrin-blocking technology. “Fibrosis represents a major area of medical need as it can impact nearly every major organ system and has limited targeted treatments to address the underlying cause,” says Lisa Olson, AbbVie’s vice-president for immunology discovery, in a joint company statement. “We believe that integrin biology could play an important role in the future treatment paradigm of serious immune-mediated diseases where fibrotic mechanisms contribute to the pathology. We are pleased to partner with the team at Morphic to develop therapies together for patients with these serious conditions.”

Under the deal, AbbVie receives an option to exclusively license Morphic’s technology for candidate products treating fibrosis-related disorders. Morphic will be responsible for preclinical research and development on each new product leading to investigational new drug applications to FDA, in effect, a request to begin clinical trials.

AbbVie is paying Morphic $100 million for these options, with Morphic eligible for additional fees when AbbVie exercises those options to license Morphic’s research. At that point, Morphic will be eligible for undisclosed clinical and commercial milestone payments, as well as royalties on product sales. The agreement also gives Morphic rights to share costs of treatments for liver fibrosis.

AbbVie is no stranger to Morphic Therapeutic, with AbbVie’s investment arm taking part in Morphic’s two venture funding rounds. The second of those financing rounds took place less than a month ago, raising $80 million. Morphic’s first venture round, reported by Science & Enterprise in June 2016, raised $51.5 million.

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