AbbVie has terminated a research partnership with Editas Medicines, returning to the biotech rights to an experimental gene-editing treatment. It’s the second genetic medicines alliance the pharmaceutical company exited this week.
The Editas therapy, EDIT-101, is in Phase 1 testing as a treatment for a rare, inherited form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis type 10 (LCA10). It uses the CRISPR technology to edit the mutated gene that causes the disease. The therapy does its editing in vivo—inside the patient—and it is the first such gene-editing therapy to enter human testing. Cambridge, MA-based Editas (NASDAQ: EDIT) says it plans to continue the therapy’s clinical development.
EDIT-101 was part of a multi-drug partnership with Allergan. But that company is now part of AbbVie (NYSE: ABBV) following a $63 billion acquisition, and the North Chicago, IL, drug maker is making choices about which programs to keep and which ones to cut. In a Thursday securities filing, Editas notes the close of the Allergan acquisition in May and says the termination of the partnership “was mutually agreed upon by the parties.”
When Editas and Allergan began working together in 2017, the initial agreement aimed to develop gene-editing drugs for a range of eye disorders. Allergan had the exclusive right to license drug candidates that stemmed from Editas’s research, including the company’s lead program, EDIT-101. Allergan exercised its option on that drug in 2018. Last year, the therapy advanced to clinical testing. Soon after, the partners entered a profit-sharing agreement that split equally the development costs, and potentially, the profits of an approved product, in the US.
According to the securities filing, the termination agreement requires Editas to make an unspecificed payment to Allergan. The biotech will also owe its former partner milestone payments tied to the clinical and regulatory progress of the programs covered by the original alliance. Financial details of those payments were not disclosed. If EDIT-101 or any of the other programs reach the market, Editas will also owe AbbVie royalties from sales.
Speaking on a Thursday conference call to discuss financial results from the second quarter, Editas Chief Financial Officer Michelle Robertson said both companies agreed that the financial terms of the payment would not be disclosed during this quarter. She added that the payment doesn’t affect Editas’ cash position, which is expected to carry the company into 2023.
Editas CEO Cynthia Collins declined to speculate about AbbVies’ rationale for ending the partnership, but she said that the pharma giant “believed that we were the best home for these assets and for this portfolio, given that the technology had originated within Editas.”
Enrollment in the EDIT-101 study has resumed following a brief pause that Editas attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company expects to complete dosing of the low-dose group, consisting of two patients, along with the dosing of at least one patient in the mid-dose group, by the end of this year.
AbbVie has spent much of the past year assessing its drug pipeline and portfolio. As the Allergan acquisition faced scrutiny from regulators, both companies reached deals to divest drug assets in order allay anti-trust concerns. AbbVie has continued shedding programs following the deal’s close. Earlier this week, it ended a research partnership with Voyager Therapeutics (NASDAQ: VYGR) focused on developing gene therapies for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. That alliance ended before any of the programs reached human testing, which would have put AbbVie on the hook for additional payments to Voyager.
Image: iStock/Christian Guiton
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