AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) and Voyager Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ:VYGR) are big movers in the biotechnology space during the middle of this week, with the two companies putting out some potentially game-changing news (and the news is interrelated – more on this shortly) and picking up some action in their market capitalization on the back of the development.
So, the news is rooted in the two companies announcing a collaboration deal.
The deal rests on a technology created and developed by Voyager Therapeutics that allows for a specialized delivery of an active compound. It’s rooted in what’s called an adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector and it targets what we might refer to as a secondary target in Alzheimer’s, with the term secondary here referring to the focus of this target in the various (many) development programs that have come and gone or are ongoing.
To add a bit of background here, right now, many Alzheimer’s development assets target what’s called amyloid plaque. Scientists don’t really know why but this plaque seems to build up in line with disease progression in the brain, so the theory is that by targeting (and reducing) plaque levels, it might be possible to slow or reverse disease progression.
It’s a nice theory, but as yet it’s yet to yield any real results.
There’s another protein, however, that’s also correlated with disease progression and it’s called Tau. Tau generally builds up after the disease has really started to progress, while amyloid builds up (for the most part) ahead of the disease revealing itself from a symptom perspective.
For the same reason that amyloid is target, then, Tau is a target in that scientists think that by prohibiting Tau development the progression of the disease can be slowed or halted.
So that’s the theory – there’s a problem.
The current Tau target assets (that is, those drugs in development that try to reduce Tau buildup) are basically ineffective because it’s really difficult to get enough of the active compound of the drugs in question across the blood-brain barrier without inducing toxicity.
And it’s here that Voyager’s asset comes in.
Through the use of an AAV vector, the theory is that you can get a drug across the blood-brain barrier that can then start to induce the development of ‘vectorized’ anti-tau antibodies within the brain.
The antibodies should then, in theory, prohibit the development of this protein and (since the antibodies are developed in the brain), in turn, could then potentially reverse the disease.
It’s a big claim and it’s early days – both of these things are important to recognize. If it works, of course, there’s plenty in the way of reward on offer for a company that gets it right.
So what does the deal look like?
Well, it’s relatively straightforward.
Voyager will receive an upfront cash payment of $69m from Abbvie and up to $155m in potential preclinical and phase 1 option payments, as well as up to $895m in development and regulatory milestones for each vectorized tau antibody compound. Further, Voyager is eligible to receive tiered royalties on the global commercial net sales of the vectorized antibodies for tauopathies, including Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Basically, then, Voyager takes the money and is eligible for milestones at pretty much every step of the way, from trial initiation to advanced development and beyond.
With that said, it’s far from a one-sided deal.
If Abbvie can get a drug like this to market in an Alzheimer’s indication (and a preventative or reversal type one at that) then the company is in line to have an asset on shelves in an indication that has no available treatment, either preventative or reactive, and affects millions of people in the US every year.
So, this is one of those deals with which everybody wins – assuming it leads to a commercialized asset. The next step is to get this technology into the clinical and to start bringing in early stage data as to safety and, ultimately, efficacy in the Alzheimer’s indication.
We don’t expect either company to hang around, with an IND and a shift into the clinic likely before the third quarter of this year.
Both Abbvie and Voyager gained strength on the back of the news.