LONDON (Reuters) - Novartis and Amgen are joining forces in the hunt for an Alzheimer’s treatment, in the latest sign that drugmakers believe an effective therapy for the memory-robbing disease may be within reach.
The two companies also plan to collaborate in developing new medicines for migraine.
Swiss-based Novartis said on Tuesday the alliance was part of a drive to build up its portfolio in neuroscience, following other deals this summer that have expanded the company’s presence in pain relief and multiple sclerosis.
“We’re quite pleased with where we are but we are always looking to continue to grow and build out our pipeline,” Vas Narasimhan, global head of development for Novartis Pharma, told Reuters.
The work with U.S. drugmaker Amgen on Alzheimer’s will focus on finding a medicine that can be given orally, rather than as an injection, through the development of so-called BACE inhibitor drugs.
BACE inhibitors work by blocking an enzyme called beta secretase that is involved in production of beta-amyloid, a protein that creates brain plaques considered a major cause of Alzheimer‘s.
Other companies such as Eli Lilly, Biogen and Roche are developing injectable antibody drugs to target beta-amyloid, which have shown some promise in clinical trials.
BACE inhibitors would be more convenient, since they are pills, and they also offer an opportunity to intervene earlier in the disease process -- but they are further behind in development and have yet to prove themselves in clinical trials.
Novartis’ experimental compound CNP520, currently in early Phase I/IIa studies, will be the lead BACE inhibitor molecule. CNP520 is planned to be included in a prevention study in people with a genetic risk of developing Alzheimer‘s, in collaboration with the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in the United States.
The product is relatively late to the party, since Merck already has a BACE inhibitor in Phase III development, with data expected in 2017, while AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly started a large Phase II/III study in December.
But Novartis believes CNP520 has a particularly attractive profile and could potentially avoid some of the side effects seen with some other BACE products, such as fluid build-up.
Under the Alzheimer’s deal, Amgen will pay an undisclosed upfront payment and milestone payments as well as disproportional research and development costs for a period, followed by a 50/50 cost and profit share arrangement.
For migraine, the collaboration will focus on Amgen’s experimental drugs AMG 334, currently in Phase III, and AMG 301, in Phase I. Novartis will have global co-development rights and commercial rights outside North America and Japan.
Novartis will fund disproportional migraine R&D expenses for a period and will pay Amgen double-digit percentage royalties on sales.
The Basel-based drugmaker is probably best known for its cancer medicines, including leukemia treatment Glivec, as well as its big new drug hope Entresto for heart failure.
But it also has an important presence in multiple sclerosis (MS) with Gilenya and the company last month moved to expand its MS business by buying the remaining rights to ofatumumab from GlaxoSmithKline.
It also gained access to an experimental neuropathic pain drug in June by buying U.S.-Australian biotech firm Spinifex Pharmaceuticals.
Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Susan Fenton