When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, Biogen isn’t putting all of its eggs in the same basket. In the latest development of a multi-drug and multi-disease collaboration, the company has licensed an experimental Ionis Pharmaceuticals compound that works in a different way than the therapies currently in its pipeline for neurodegenerative diseases.
On Thursday, Ionis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: IONS) announced that its Cambridge, MA-based partner (NASDAQ: BIIB) has licensed an experimental Alzheimer’s drug it is testing that’s designed to reduce the production of tau, a protein associated with the increasingly common neurological disorder.
For rights to the experimental tau drug, Biogen will pay Ionis $45 million up front, up to $155 million based on whether the therapy hits certain milestones, and royalties from any sales for the experimental treatment, which is in a Phase 1 clinical study for patients with mild Alzheimer’s. Under the deal, Ionis will handle the Phase 1 testing, which started in 2017, and a one-year extension study that began this year. Biogen will handle all subsequent studies and further development.
The drug candidate, IONIS-MAPTRx, like other Ionis drugs, is an antisense therapy, a class of treatments designed to stick to certain RNA molecules and modify the production of proteins. Biogen also has anti-tau antibodies in its pipeline.
Biogen’s lead drug candidate for Alzheimer’s targets amyloid, another protein associated with neurodegeneration. Interest in amyloid has recently undergone a revival as a result of Biogen’s decision to ask the FDA to review its lead anti-amyloid Alzheimer’s drug, aducanumab.
Ionis, based in Carlsbad, CA, and Biogen have a broad partnership with the aim of making new drugs to treat neurological disorders. The collaboration has already produced a commercial drug, nusinersen (Spinraza)—the first-ever treatment approved for spinal muscular atrophy—which was OK’d in 2016.
The companies are also jointly working on treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.