Celgene pays $20M to San Diego startup to option neuro candidate

Celgene

Celgene ($CELG) is paying up under a February 2014 deal with Abide Therapeutics to exercise its option for ex-U.S. rights to its only clinical candidate. The biopharma will spend $20 million and will be responsible for all Phase II and beyond development costs in neurological indications, with multiple sclerosis (MS) up first.

The candidate, ABX-1431, is the only one that the San Diego, CA-based biotech has in the clinic. It’s a first-in-class endocannabinoid system modulator that’s intended to regulate neurotransmitter balance and inflammation--both of which are issues for MS patients, despite progress with disease-modifying drugs in this indication.

“Pain, sleep deficit--there are no real treatments for those MS symptoms. Treatments that modify MS still leave those symptoms and deficits. Given Celgene’s interest now in neurology, and particularly in MS, this is a very good fit for both of us,” Abide President and CEO Alan Ezekowitz told FierceBiotech. He was an SVP at Merck ($MRK) prior to founding Abide in late 2011.

ABX-1431 is expected to work via the amplification of endogenous cannabinoid signaling, thereby relieving pain, spasticity, sleep, appetite and nausea issues that can also be activated directly with medical marijuana.

Celgene also has the right to exercise a second option from Abide’s pipeline at the end of Phase Ia data; the biotech expects that it will advance its next molecule into the clinic in the next 12 to 18 months.

The cash infusion will enable Abide to fund Phase Ib studies for to look for proof-of-biology in various neurological indications. Cardinal Partners, where Ezekowitz was an entrepreneur-in-residence prior to heading up Abide, has provided the seed and venture funding totaling $16 million for the company.

Ezekowitz said the Celgene deal has been effective in enabling Abide to both advance its platform and move toward yielding marketed products; the deal enables the startup to keep U.S. rights. He noted that it took only about three years to get this first molecule into the clinic.

Abide’s platform comes out of work at The Scripps Research Institute by Professors Ben Cravatt and Dale Boger. It targets serine hydrolases with selective small molecules, enabling the development of target engagement biomarkers, Ezekowitz added.

On early data for ABX-1431, he noted that Phase I research has confirmed that the molecule is able to get into the brain and that it hasn’t resulted in any serious adverse events or abnormalities in cognition or mood.

Beyond Celgene, Abide also has a diabetes-focused partnership with Merck that dates back to 2013.