AbbVie has decided to exit its existing partnership with Voyager Therapeutics for the development of gene therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
An initial deal was forged in 2018 for the research and development of vectorised antibodies for Alzheimer’s focused on reducing tau, a protein which is slowly emerging as a new target for Alzheimer’s drug development. As part of this first deal, Voyager received $69m upfront to advance gene therapy candidates into phase 1 testing, with AbbVie gaining the option to license one or more for further development.
A second agreement, signed in 2019, focused on gene therapy treatments directed against the alpha-synuclein protein for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In Parkinson’s, alpha-synuclein forms toxic clumps in the brain, causing cellular damage and brain cell death. As with the initial deal, AbbVie received an upfront payment, this time totalling $65m, to expand the collaboration into Parkinson’s disease, with the cash going towards phase 1 clinical testing.
Voyager’s goal is develop therapies that can cross the blood-brain barrier via a one-time intravenous injection that delivers genes that encode the production of therapeutic antibodies. The Cambridge, US-based biotech company did not give a reason why the collaboration with AbbVie had ended, disclosing only that it has regained full clinical development and commercialisation rights to certain candidates developed as part of the alliance.
“Our efforts to harness AAV-based gene therapy to produce antibodies directly in the brain and overcome major limitations with delivery of current biologics across the blood-brain barrier have been highly productive,” said Omar Khwaja, chief medical officer and head of R&D at Voyager.
“Through the tau and alpha-synuclein collaborations, we believe we have made considerable progress against targets for neurodegenerative diseases with this novel approach, reinforcing our enthusiasm for its potential to deliver therapeutically efficacious levels of biologics to the brain and central nervous system,” he added.
In 2019, French drugmaker Sanofi also scaled back on a gene therapy alliance with Voyager for a second time. This included handing back the rights to a number of candidates, including a potential Parkinson’s treatment and gene therapies for Huntington disease, Friedreich’s ataxia and spinal muscular atrophy.
Voyager has one research alliance left with Neurocrine Biosciences, which paid $115m and purchased $50m worth of Voyager shares for rights to a gene therapy for Parkinson’s which is currently in a phase 2 clinical trial. Neurocrine picked up rights to the programme after Sanofi gave them up back in 2017.
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