AbbVie unveils clutch of I-O, genomics research pacts

AbbVie has unveiled a clutch of pacts in fields including immuno-oncology and genomics. The deals give AbbVie access to MerTK inhibitors, a source of peptide targets and genome sequencing data on 45,000 people.

All of the deals cover early-stage research, and as such it will be years before they have a notable effect on AbbVie’s fortunes. But, collectively, the pacts hint at the areas in which AbbVie sees its future resting and how it plans to go about realizing its ambitions. Two of the alliances relate to immuno-oncology, one is in the field of immunology and the fourth sees AbbVie gain access to a source of genomic data to support its future R&D efforts.

The genomics pact is perhaps the most striking. AbbVie has teamed up with the recently founded Genomics Medicine Ireland (GMI) to sequence the genomes of 45,000 volunteers. GMI and AbbVie will enroll people with “several types of immune-mediated diseases, neurological disorders and cancer” and individuals unaffected by these conditions in the sequencing program. AbbVie plans to pair these genotypic data to phenotypic information to identify new therapeutic targets and biomarkers.

In embarking on the sequencing drive, AbbVie is following in the footsteps of rivals such as AstraZeneca and Regeneron, which have put genomics at the center of their future R&D plans.

AbbVie is trailing its peers in terms of both the time it is entering the field and the scale of its ambitions—AstraZeneca is working on a 2-million-genome database—but in GMI it has a partner with a platform based on the work of deCode Genetics, which pioneered population-scale genomics and went on to be bought by Amgen for $415 million.

It will be years before it becomes clear which of the company’s approaches to accessing genomics data is most effective. The other pacts unveiled by AbbVie cover research that is similarly far from market.

One of the oncology deals sees AbbVie team up with Pure MHC to discover and validate peptide targets. AbbVie plans to use the targets with T-cell receptor drugs in various cancers. The other oncology deal gives AbbVie the license to use Dong-A ST’s MerTK inhibitors in combination with immuno-oncology therapies. AbbVie thinks Dong-A ST’s preclinical programs may boost the effectiveness of checkpoint inhibitors.

The fourth and final pact pairs AbbVie with Zebra Biologics to discover agonist antibodies for the treatment of inflammatory diseases. AbbVie will jointly advance the programs through preclinical, before taking full control once the assets enter the clinic.