AbbVie, following in footsteps of Lilly and Takeda, pays Anima $42M to go after undruggable targets

AbbVie has joined Anima Biotech’s star-studded roster of partners, paying $42 million upfront to work with the biotech on small molecule mRNA drugs against three “undruggable” targets in oncology and immunology. 

Eli Lilly helped put Anima on the map in 2018 when it paid $30 million upfront to collaborate with the biotech on translation inhibitors of several protein targets. The deal gave Lilly a way to target proteins that lack accessible binding sites. Lilly and Anima are hitting ribosomes that read mRNA to modulate the production of the target molecules rather than trying to engage the undruggable proteins directly.

Takeda allied with Anima three years later, committing $120 million in upfront and preclinical research milestone payments to go after Huntington’s disease and other indications. Along the way, Anima caught the eye of AbbVie.

“This collaboration will give AbbVie access to Anima's leading technology platform and deep expertise in mRNA biology,” Jonathon Sedgwick, Ph.D., vice president and global head of discovery research at AbbVie, said in a statement. “Modulating mRNA biology with small molecules is a new approach and has the potential to address 'undruggable' targets with implications across multiple therapy areas.”

AbbVie is putting down $42 million to get the deal off the ground. As the three programs advance, the drugmaker could pay Anima up to $540 million in option fees and research and development milestones, with further paydays to come if the candidates come to market. The deal gives AbbVie the option to add up to three more targets to the pact under the same terms as the initial collaboration.

Landing AbbVie as a partner cements Anima’s position in a pack of biotechs that are built on the idea that they can unlock undruggable targets. With some proteins having well-validated roles in diseases, but lacking accessible binding sites, scientists see promise in technologies such as small-molecule mRNA drugs and targeted protein degraders that provide alternative ways to change levels of target molecules.