Today Hawthorne, NY-based Acorda Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ACOR) announced that it licensed an experimental compound to treat spinal cord injury from medical-device giant Medtronic (NYSE: MDT). Acorda paid $3 million up front for worldwide rights to the compound, and pledged up to $32 million in regulatory and development milestone payments to Medtronic, which is based in Minneapolis. Medtronic will also receive a “single digit” percentage royalty if the product is commercialized, Acorda says.
The Medtronic deal is part of Acorda’s grand plan to build up its Phase 2 pipeline of drugs to address unmet medical needs in neurology. The fast-growing company already has two marketed products—dalfampridine (Ampyra) to treat multiple sclerosis, and tizanidine hydrochloride (Zanaflex) to relieve muscle spasms—plus one drug in Phase 1 clinical testing and two more on the way. “But we have nothing in the middle,” said CEO Ron Cohen in a phone interview this spring, when he hinted the company was on the hunt for molecules to acquire. “To diversify our risk and leverage our core expertise—neurological therapeutics—we feel we need to have middle-stage projects.”
The Medtronic compound, which Acorda will call AC105, is a modified form of the mineral magnesium. It has long been known that a loss of magnesium after spinal cord injuries creates a cascade of problems that lead to the loss of motor function that commonly results. “If you can restore magnesium to proper levels, you can protect the tissue” in the brain and spinal cord, says Acorda’s chief scientific officer, Andrew Blight.
Problem is, it’s difficult to give magnesium to patients in high enough levels without causing dangerous side effects, such as heart and brain issues. So Medtronic created a formulation of the mineral that includes polyethylene glycol. That improves the process of getting magnesium from the blood to the injured nervous system, but without the need for the large magnesium doses that raise the risk for serious side effects. In rodent models of spinal cord injury, the drug promoted recovery of some movement to paralyzed limbs and performed better than simple magnesium salt formulations that have been tried in the past.
There are about 12,000 incidents of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. every year. But Blight believes that AC105 may prove useful in other neurological applications, too, such as traumatic brain injury. “Anything that’s useful in spinal cord injury is likely to be useful in other conditions, as well,” he says. Medtronic has already done a Phase 1 safety study in healthy volunteers, so Acorda is picking up the project in time to plan the Phase 2 program in spinal cord injury.
Acorda is also moving forward on compounds in its early-stage pipeline—including one that may take the company beyond its neurology comfort zone. Glial Growth Factor 2 (GGF2) is a “neuregulin”—a molecule that stimulates tissue repair in the nervous system. Acorda licensed GGF2 from a company called CeNeS Pharmaceuticals (now owned by Paion) in 2002. Since then, Acorda has been examining the compound in animal models of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
In the course of those studies, Acorda’s scientists recognized that GGF2 was showing promise in cardiology. “Neuregulins are potent stimulators of cardiomyocytes—the muscle cells in the heart,” says Anthony Caggiano, V.P. of research and development for Acorda. “What’s exciting for us is … Next Page »
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