Allergan isn’t dwelling on the termination of its $160 billion merger with Pfizer; the biotech just acquired the global rights to Heptares’ neurological drugs portfolio. The company has agreed to pay the UK-based Heptares $3.3 billion in the licensing deal, with $125 million upfront.
Heptares will be receiving $665 million based on milestones in clinical development, and a maximum of $2.5 billion dependent on sales. Allergan also plans to fund a $50 million R&D collaboration program to push promising drug candidates through Phase II clinical trials. Following completion of Phase IIb trials, Allergan will be solely responsible for the drugs’ further development.
Still reeling from the derailed merger with Pfizer, the licensing deal shows Allergan CEO Brent Saunders is still keenly focused on bolstering the company’s pipeline. Neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s have proven to be tough to treat, making Allergan’s move an ambitious one.
Allergan’s main R&D interests are small molecule agonists of the muscarinic M1 and M4 receptors in the brain. Allergan’s deal with Heptares includes two M1 agonists – HTL9936 and HTL18318 – currently in Phase I clinical trials.
While the M4 agonists target neurobehavioral symptoms through the same pathway as antipsychotics, the M1 candidates are designed to treat the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. According to Malcolm Weir, CEO of Heptares, the Phase I clinical trials provided “evidence you could get a well-tolerated compound in the CNS that showed evidence of target engagement, pointing to therapeutic levels that were clearly separated from levels that would give you side effects.”
“It was good timing we could announce now,” he said, because the deal “reaffirms Allergan’s commitment to open science.” The open science concept relies upon innovative drug discovery from companies like Heptares, along with late-stage developers like Allergan.
Pharmaceutical giants such as Eli Lilly, have previously attempted to apply drugs targeting the M1 receptor to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, many of these efforts have been abandoned due to side effects and other safety concerns.
Hepatares believes they may have solved this issue by showing their candidates have sufficient target selectivity in the Phase I trial. If the drug continues its success into mid-stage development, it could prove useful in treating other neurological disorders like schizophrenia and Lewy body dementia.
For now, Weir says that Heptares will focus on establishing new partnerships based on the open science model. In addition, they plan to establish their own product pipeline featuring drugs they plan to market on their own.