AbbVie, Ipsen exit R&D deals to cap off lousy year for Exicure

The unraveling of Exicure continues apace. Weeks after the biotech raised the specter of bankruptcy, AbbVie and Ipsen have terminated their hair loss disorder and rare neurodegenerative disease collaborations with the company.

Exicure’s death spiral began with the revelation that its former neuroscience group leader misreported data on a preclinical program throughout much of the first nine months of 2021 and accelerated when its backup candidate fell short of preclinical expectations. Last month, the biotech warned investors that “there is a significant likelihood” it will file for bankruptcy unless a private placement is consummated.

Against that turbulent backdrop, AbbVie and Ipsen have walked away. Allergan, now part of AbbVie, paid $25 million upfront to discover and develop hair loss drugs using Exicure’s spherical nucleic acid technology in 2019.

Ipsen joined AbbVie on the biotech’s list of collaborators last year, paying $20 million upfront and putting up to $1 billion in option fees and milestones down for licenses to discovery-stage Huntington’s disease and Angelman syndrome prospects. Exicure landed the deal on the potential of its technology to enable the efficient delivery of oligonucleotides to the brain.

The termination of the AbbVie deal clears Exicure to independently develop medicines targeting hair loss disorders. But with its cash reserves down to $16.8 million at the last count, its head count severely cut and all R&D activities on hold, the biotech is currently in a weak position to advance the program.

Exicure can also theoretically work on its Huntington’s and Angelman programs independently following the termination of the Ipsen deal. Ipsen has left the door open for it to return to the Huntington’s and Angelman programs by retaining the right to reenter the collaboration with Exicure. 

For that to happen, Exicure will have to survive. Shareholders are set to vote tomorrow on a $5.4 million private placement that could keep the wolves from the door. Exicure is pursuing strategic alternatives to find a more permanent fix for its predicament.