Alexion strikes Zealand deal to further pipeline rebuild

ludwig hantson
Alexion CEO Ludwig Hantson. (Alexion)

Alexion and Zealand Pharma have teamed up to develop peptide therapies for complement-mediated diseases. The deal will see Alexion pay $25 million (€22 million) upfront to work with Zealand on the subcutaneously delivered therapies.

Denmark’s Zealand made its name developing peptide-based medicines with partners such as Sanofi and Boehringer Ingelheim. Now, Alexion has identified the peptide know-how that underpinned those deals as a good match for its own R&D priorities, which are increasingly angled toward drugs that fit into the lives of patients because they can be delivered subcutaneously at low volumes. 

The selectivity and potency of peptides means they can fit that brief. Alexion has signed up to work with Zealand on up to four peptides directed at different complement targets. Zealand will take the drugs through to preclinical before handing off to Alexion for the IND filing and beyond.

Alexion will pay $25 million for exclusive rights to the first candidate and commit to $115 million in development-related milestones. Another $495 million is tied to sales milestones. Alexion will hand over another $15 million for each of the other three programs it options and commit to a package of milestones that is somewhat smaller than that of the lead candidate.

The deal was one of several pipeline updates Alexion made in connection to its investor day. A theme runs through the updates: In each case, Alexion bolstered its early-stage pipeline with assets that are suitable for subcutaneous delivery.

The other deal Alexion disclosed involved Affibody’s ABY-039, an anti-FcRn that may have a longer half-life and a less onerous dosing regimen than other drugs in the class, including Alexion’s ALXN1830.

Alexion’s internal R&D update related to ALXN1720, a bispecific against C5 and albumin, that is set to move into the clinic this year. Alexion’s cornerstone drug Soliris and long-acting successor Ultomiris target C5. Ultomiris, the more convenient of the two drugs, is delivered via a two hour infusion every eight weeks. ALXN1720 is designed to be delivered subcutaneously. 

The Alexion updates won praise from analysts, with the team at Piper Jaffray stating they “like the new management team’s execution and smart deal activity” in a note to investors. The analysts cited the earlier acquisitions of Syntimmune and Wilson Therapeutics when praising Alexion.

Through the deals and internal R&D, Alexion has built a more diverse pipeline designed to result in approvals that lessen its reliance on Soliris. Alexion’s previous management team tried to do that, too, but made some moves that failed to pay off, most notably the $8.4 billion takeover of Synageva BioPharma.

Under the leadership of Ludwig Hantson, Alexion has extracted itself from some of the collaborations and programs initiated by the previous team and had another stab at building up the pipeline.