AbbVie dumps Galapagos' arthritis drug and presses on with its own

AbbVie CSO Michael Severino

AbbVie ($ABBV) is backing out of a roughly $1.4 billion deal with Galapagos ($GLPG), picking an internal rheumatoid arthritis treatment over the one it licensed from the Belgian biotech.

With the move, AbbVie is handing back the rights to filgotinib, a Galapagos-discovered drug that targets JAK1 to tamp down inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. That brings to an end a 2012 deal through which AbbVie paid its partner $150 million up front and promised as much as $1.2 billion more tied to clinical and regulatory milestones.

In filgotinib's stead, AbbVie is moving forward with its own ABT-494, another JAK1 inhibitor with promise in arthritis. In tandem with its Galapagos announcement, AbbVie disclosed that ABT-494 met its primary goal in two Phase II studies, improving symptoms at a statistically significant rate compared with placebo over 12 weeks. Now AbbVie is planning to mount a Phase III effort for its drug by the end of 2015.

"We believe ABT-494 has the potential to become a best-in-class therapy for patients," AbbVie Chief Scientific Officer Michael Severino said in a statement, adding, in reference to filgotinib: "In our view, ABT-494 also offers a faster path to Phase III development with less uncertainty."

Meanwhile, uncertainty abounds for Galapagos, whose shares fell more than 25% on the news. AbbVie's exit follows similar breakups with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), and investors were betting heavily that filgotinib could be the asset that propelled Galapagos toward a high-dollar buyout.

Such optimism helped the company pull off a $275 million U.S. IPO in May. Before Friday's drop, Galapagos' share price had risen more than 45%.

- read AbbVie's filgotinib statement
- here's the ABT-494 release