Compatriots in the CNS war

Biogen Idec acquires Neurimmune subsidiary in quest for treatment of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS

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WESTON, Mass.—Taking a giant step toward becoming a global leader in neurodegenerative diseases, Biogen Idec has announced the acquisition of a subsidiary of Swiss firm Neurimmune Holding AG for the potential treatment and prevention of diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The total potential purchase price of the agreement is $427 million.

Biogen will make an initial payment of $32.5 million and up to $395 million in follow-on payments to Zurich, Switzerland-based Neurimmune.

The Neurimmune subsidiary brings to Biogen the global rights to three preclinical immunotherapy programs focused on the discovery and development of novel human antibodies that address three central nervous system (CNS) targets: alpha-synuclein, tau and TDP-43.

Christina Chan, senior manager of public affairs at Biogen Idec, says the acquisition "builds on a 2007 agreement between the two companies to explore human antibodies against beta-amyloid for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease." That agreement was worth up to $380 million in initial fees and milestone payments from Biogen to Neurimmune.

In November, Biogen, the world's largest maker of multiple sclerosis drugs, cleared the way for the current acquisition when it announced about 650 job layoffs, closed its cancer research hub in San Diego and consolidated sites in eastern Massachusetts to Weston and Cambridge. Biogen reported that the restructuring would save $300 million a year.

The deal also helps Biogen build up its neurology pipeline beyond its core strength in multiple sclerosis, while competing in a rising neurological market.

Chan says Biogen will be responsible for the development of the preclinical candidates and the commercialization of all products, while Neurimmune oversees additional scientific activities with respect to the lead candidates as well as the discovery of back-up candidates, utilizing its Reverse Translational Medicine technology platform. Neurimmune retains the right to use its platform for creating therapeutic antibody products outside the scope of its agreement with Biogen.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that in the United States, at least 500,000 people are believed to suffer from Parkinson's disease, and about 50,000 new cases are reported annually. These figures are expected to increase as the average age of the population increases.

In addition, according to recent estimates, as many as 2.4 million to 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease. Unless the disease can be effectively treated or prevented, the numbers will increase significantly if current population trends continue. The number of people age 65 and older is expected to grow from 39 million in 2008 to 72 million in 2030.

The NIH also reports that as many as 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States have ALS, with an estimated 5,000 people newly diagnosed with the disease each year.

"Biogen Idec is committed to becoming the global leader in the development of innovative therapies for neurodegenerative diseases," Chan says. "The goal of the partnership is to move these three promising programs forward so that we can potentially help patients suffering from devastating neurodegenerative diseases. This broad set of commercial opportunities allows for increased development speed and flexibility in approaching both less and widely prevalent diseases."

Chan explains that "protein misfolding, aggregation and possibly propagation have emerged as key pathophysiologic features of neurodegenerative disease." She adds that neurodegenerative diseases are now increasingly being reclassified as proteinopathies, such as "synucleinopathies" or "tauopathies."

Immunotherapy, which is a core competency of Biogen Idec, "shows promise as a treatment modality for proteinopathies of the CNS, and may help mobilize neurotoxic proteins out of the CNS," Chan says.   
Michael Salzmann, Neurimmune's chief operating officer and general manager, tells ddn, "Neurimmune's objective is the development of innovative human antibody therapeutics for the prevention and disease-modifying treatment of common human disorders with a high unmet medical need."
This includes not only Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and ALS, but also dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) as well, he says.

"We are excited that Biogen acquired the rights in three of our programs for the prevention and treatment of a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, but we are realistic about the many difficult steps ahead in a field with a lot of competition by the world's best and largest pharmaceutical companies," Salzmann says.

Dr. Alfred Sandrock, senior vice president of neurology research and development at Biogen Idec, says Neurimmune "continues to impress us with their ability to translate scientific insights into innovative antibodies for the potential treatment and prevention of many neurodegenerative diseases."

Roger Nitsch, founder and director of Neurimmune, adds, "With its world-class expertise in the development, manufacturing and marketing of therapeutic antibodies for neurological diseases, Biogen is the perfect strategic fit to drive the successful development of Neurimmune's antibodies."

Biogen Idec uses cutting-edge science to discover, develop, manufacture and market biological products for the treatment of serious diseases with a focus on neurological disorders. Founded in 1978, Biogen Idec is the world's oldest independent biotechnology company, generating more than $4 billion in annual revenues.

Neurimmune is a privately held Swiss biotechnology company focusing on the development of novel human antibody therapeutics for the treatment and prevention of common human diseases. Based upon its unique Reverse Translational Medicine technology platform, Neurimmune has created a pipeline of human antibody programs targeting CNS indication areas. Neurimmune's business strategy focuses on the development of therapeutic antibodies at early stages of the pharmaceutical value chain and partnering product candidates for later-stage development and marketing.

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