Eli Lilly Sweetens AC Immune Alzheimer’s Treatment Deal by €38M

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A deal between Swiss biotech AC Immune and Eli Lilly to develop an oral Alzheimer’s disease drug has increased in worth by €38M with a new milestone payment.

AC Immune and Eli Lilly modified a deal signed in late 2018 to co-develop a small molecule treatment to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, the milestone payments due for reaching phase I and phase II with the drug were altered, and AC Immune is to receive an extra €38M as part of a phase II milestone payment.

According to the CEO of AC Immune, Andrea Pfeifer, milestone payments were modified to tie in better with specific stages of drug development. 

In addition to the deal’s amendments, AC Immune also announced a recent €9M milestone payment from Eli Lilly as a result of taking the Alzheimer’s treatment to phase I late last year. Results from the trial are expected in late 2020.

We are pleased with the amendment because we are progressing well in phase I,” Pfeifer told me.

The drug in development is an oral, small molecule designed to inhibit a protein called tau from clumping together in brain tissue, which is believed to be one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. 

There are many companies developing drugs to block the clumping of tau in Alzheimer’s disease. The most advanced includes a phase II small molecule developed by the US company Anavex Life Science Corp, and a phase III small molecule developed by the Singaporean-UK company TauRx Therapeutics. 

According to AC Immune, its own drug is uniquely shown to specifically inhibit tau clumping both inside and outside brain cells. This could block the aggregation of tau earlier, when compared to other drugs in development.

In addition to tau, the protein amyloid-beta has been a common target for candidate Alzheimer’s drugs. However, there is a long history of clinical failures of drugs targeting amyloid-beta.

It may be difficult for a drug with a mechanism of action focused on a single part of the disease process – such as beta-amyloid plaques – to make a meaningful impact, especially in symptomatic patients,” Pfeifer said.

A notable example of clinical failures around amyloid-beta is the phase III flop of an Alzheimer’s drug developed by the US company Biogen and the Japanese big pharma company Eisai. More recently though, Biogen resurrected the drug based on a reanalysis of the phase III data, and is now preparing to apply for FDA approval.

Amid the raging Covid-19 crisis, Pfeifer told me that there are no delays in AC Immune’s clinical program, and the company is continually monitoring the situation.

Images from Shutterstock

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