AbbVie joins TL1A race via $150M upfront deal with China's FutureGen

AbbVie has become the latest Big Pharma to jump on the anti-TL1A train, paying China’s FutureGen Biopharmaceutical $150 million upfront for a preclinical inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) candidate.

Interest in TL1A has only increased in the wake of midphase data from Roivant and Prometheus, which demonstrated that targeting the protein may improve outcomes in conditions including ulcerative colitis. It led to a flurry of dealmaking last year that included Roche paying Roivant and Pfizer $7 billion for Telavant, which was developing a phase 3-ready asset called RVT-3101. 

By licensing FG-M701 from FutureGen, AbbVie now claims to have a “next-generation” TL1A antibody that could best its Big Pharma peers.

“FG-M701 is uniquely engineered with potential best-in-class functional characteristics compared to first-generation TL1A antibodies with the goal to drive greater efficacy and less frequent dosing as a therapy for IBD,” AbbVie explained in the June 13 release.

The pharma is handing over $150 million to FutureGen in upfront and near-term milestone payments. A further $1.56 billion will potentially be up for grabs in clinical development, regulatory and commercial milestones, as well as tiered royalties up to low-double digits on net sales.

Evidence that TL1A modulates the location and severity of inflammation and fibrosis led researchers to identify the protein as a way to treat IBD. While Roche’s RVT-3101 is set to move into phase 3 trials in this indication, Big Pharmas also have their sights on the modality’s potential in Crohn’s disease and other conditions.

“The prevalence of IBD continues to increase, and many people living with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease do not respond to current therapies,” Jonathon Sedgwick, Ph.D., senior vice president and global head of discovery research at AbbVie, said in the release.

“AbbVie's mission to raise the standard of care includes the pursuit of transformative therapies that help more patients living with autoimmune diseases achieve remission,” Sedgwick added.

AbbVie’s move is just the latest in a string of intriguing expeditions into the TL1A space by Big Pharma. In addition to Roche’s Telavant buy last year, Merck paid $11 billion for Prometheus, while Sanofi also entered the arena when it paid Teva around $500 million for the opportunity to co-develop a candidate further back in the race.