Biogen Idec Strikes Potential $345M Deal with Knopp to Develop ALS Drug

Xconomy Boston — 

Biogen Idec now has a shot at treating a neurodegenerative disease that has befuddled researchers for decades. The Weston, MA-based biotech powerhouse (NASDAQ:BIIB) says today it has landed a deal with Knopp Neurosciences to develop an experimental drug for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Biogen, which has significant operations in San Diego, has shelled out $20 million in an upfront payment to Pittsburgh-based Knopp and purchased $60 million in Knopp stock. Knopp could also collect an addtional $265 million in payments from Biogen tied to development and commercial goals. Biogen is also taking over development of Knopp’s ALS drug, which is due to enter Phase 3 clinical trials in the first half of 2011.

The drug has the potential to be a big improvement for patients with the deadly disease, for which there are now limited treatment options and no cure. The disease attacks nerve cells in the spinal chord and brain, eventually robbing its victims of the ability to move parts of their bodies such as their arms and legs. Knopp’s, and now Biogen’s drug, which is intended to protect those nerve cells, showed in a recent mid-stage clinical trial that it could slow down the progression of the disease, and patients who were on a higher dose of the drug got better results than those who took a lower dose.

For Biogen, a leading maker of drugs for multiple sclerosis, this deal expands its pipeline of treatments for neurological diseases. “ALS is a devastating disorder and, with only one approved therapy, there is a tremendous need to provide more therapeutic options for patients,” George Scangos, Biogen’s CEO, said in a statement. “This disease is a natural fit for Biogen Idec, given our global capabilities in neurology, and we look forward to beginning a Phase III program.”

There are an estimated 20,000 Americans who suffer from ALS, which most commonly strikes people between the ages of 40 and 60, according to the National Institutes of Health. While researchers have found genetic causes of the disease in a small percentage of patients, it’s unknown what causes the great majority of cases of the chronic illness.

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