AbbVie cans Voyager Alzheimer's, Parkinson's gene therapy pacts

AbbVie has terminated its Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s disease pacts with Voyager Therapeutics. The Big Pharma paid $134 million to enter into the two partnerships but then dropped the projects after Voyager completed research activities. 

In 2018, AbbVie paid Voyager $69 million to develop gene therapies for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other diseases linked to defective or excess aggregation of tau protein. The next year, AbbVie handed Voyager a further $65 million to take a similar approach to the treatment of Parkinson’s and other diseases in which pathogenic species of alpha-synuclein are implicated. 

Voyager carried out research activities as set out in the two agreements. The two projects were then scheduled to advance to the development stage, triggering $80 million payments to Voyager for the first tau and alpha-synuclein assets and $30 million for subsequent candidates.

But now, AbbVie has killed those partnerships before triggering the payments, leaving Voyager to forge a path of its own with the assets, should it chose to continue development. The biotech offered scant details of why AbbVie took the action, stating only that activities “have been conducted as part of the research period and did not advance to the development stage.” Given how many drugs have failed to make it out of the preclinical stage, let alone to the market, this perhaps shouldn't be too surprising.

In a statement, Voyager R&D chief Omar Khwaja said the projects have been “highly productive” and “made considerable progress against targets for neurodegenerative diseases.” However, Voyager is yet to publicly commit to advancing the projects. The terminations give Voyager rights to develop tau and alpha-synuclein assets. Voyager said its cash runway guidance is unchanged.  

The terminations surprised investors, who sent shares in Voyager down 12% in after-hours trading. In November, Voyager CEO Andre Turenne told investors the alpha-synuclein work was “progressing faster than expected in light of the early learnings from our anti-tau vectorized antibody efforts.” 

Those research efforts centered on the creation of vectorized antibody compounds made up of a viral capsid, such as an adeno-associated virus, and a virus vector genome encoding for one or more antibodies. The antibodies were selected for their ability to target and bind to tau or alpha-synuclein.

Voyager is also using its technology to treat CNS diseases in different ways. Working with partner Neurocrine Biosciences, Voyager is testing a gene therapy designed to enable Parkinson’s patients to convert levodopa into dopamine. That asset could start a registrational trial this year.