Alkermes Eyes Brain Disorders and Beyond With $100M Deal for Rodin

Xconomy Boston — 

[Updated 5:55 p.m. See below.] Rodin Therapeutics has limited data from human studies about its neurodegeneration drug, but the company’s new approach to treating brain disorders has proven attractive enough for Alkermes to plunk down $100 million to buy the startup.

According to financial terms announced Monday, the cash sum is an upfront payment. Depending on the progress of Rodin’s drug candidates, Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS) could pay Rodin shareholders up to $850 million in milestone payments.

Rodin is developing a new class of small molecule drugs for brain diseases. These drugs target histone deacetylases (HDAC), proteins that regulate the formation of synapses between neurons, and the synaptic changes thought to contribute to learning and memory.

Multiple HDAC-targeting drugs have been developed for cancer, but this approach has yet to produce a compound safe enough for chronic treatment of a brain disease. Rodin says it is designing molecules that can selectively hit its brain targets, reactivating neuronal genes and minimizing safety risks. In preclinical tests, the company says animals that received its drug showed an increase in spine density and synaptic proteins.

Lead Rodin compound RDN-929 is being developed as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Huntington’s disease. In preliminary Phase 1 results released in June, Rodin said the safety results of its experimental treatment suggest the drug could be used in the long-term dosing that is needed for treating neurologic diseases.

Meanwhile, Alkermes is trying to jump start its pipeline following a regulatory setback. The company currently sells drugs for schizophrenia, as well as treatments for alcohol and opioid dependence. But its bid to add depression to its portfolio stalled in February after the FDA rejected ALKS 5461, an experimental treatment for major depressive disorder.

Last month, Alkermes announced a restructuring that cut roughly 160 jobs. At the time, Alkermes CEO Richard Pops said the corporate shakeup would allow his company to focus its research and development efforts on promising programs in central nervous system disorders and cancer.

Alkermes sees Rodin’s approach as having potential applications beyond neuroscience. In a prepared statement, Alkermes Chief Medical Officer Craig Hopkinson said that the synaptic loss and dysfunction can happen regardless of the underlying disease. The Rodin technology could be used to develop therapies for cancer and blood disorders, he added.

Alkermes says it plans to do additional preclinical research to advance Rodin’s drug pipeline, and it estimates it will spend $20 million on that work in 2020. The Dublin, Ireland-based company, which also has operations in Waltham, MA, adds that it may prioritize other Rodin compounds ahead of RDN-929. Besides exploring applications of the Rodin technology in blood disorders and cancer, Alkermes also plans to continue the Rodin research focused on a subset of frontotemporal dementia patients whose disease is caused by an inherited mutation to the gene that produces progranulin, a protein important for keeping neurons healthy. That research could potentially put the company in competition with South San Francisco-based Alector (NASDAQ: ALEC) and Cambridge, MA-based Arkuda Therapeutics, both of which are developing therapies that support progranulin.

[Paragraph added with analyst comment.] In a research note, SVB Leerink analyst Marc Goodman wrote that Alkermes executives told him that the company has been following Rodin for two years, with keen interest in its science. Besides the potential applications of the technology in neurodegenerative disorders, the company wants to explore sickle cell disease and cancer. But Alkermes’s priority is reducing the hematoxicity, or blood poisoning, a side effect that prevents the four currently approved HDAC cancer therapies from being used as chronic treatments, Goodman wrote.

Rodin’s investors include Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), which in 2016 added an exclusive option to buy the startup for up to $485 million. But as Rodin approached the first human tests of its lead drug, Biogen quietly bowed out of that agreement. President & CEO Adam Rosenberg told Xconomy in 2017 that the decision to end the deal was mutual.

Alkermes expects to complete the Rodin acquisition by the end of this month. Here’s more on the origins of Rodin.

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