Allergan acquires NMDA depression drug from Aptinyx collaboration

Allergan plans to pair its new NMDA purchase with rapastinel, which it acquired in its $560 million takeover of Aptinyx's predecessor, Naurex. (Allergan)(Image: Allergan)

Allergan has acquired an investigational NMDA receptor modulator discovered by Aptinyx, exercising its option under an ongoing collaboration, and plans to pair it with its rapastinel depression therapy currently under development.

The oral, small-molecule drug AGN-241751 had previously been selected for further clinical development by Allergan under the joint NMDA research project.

Over the past two years, Allergan has negotiated a series of deals to extend its reach in R&D—including acquiring Repros Therapeutics and its phase 3-ready uterine fibroid drug late last year. Some have paid off, but other moves have shown little success, with Allergan recently writing off the second of two dermatology candidates acquired in a 2016 takeover of Vitae Pharmaceuticals.

Aptinyx and its work in neurologic disorders were spun out from its predecessor, Naurex, after the latter was acquired by Allergan for $560 million in 2015. Allergan retained development and commercialization rights to a set number of Aptinyx’s candidates in a limited range of indications in return for funding a portion of the discovery collaboration.

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Through the deal, Allergan also acquired rapastinel, formerly known as GLYX-13, an intravenous NMDA receptor-modulating tetrapeptide currently being evaluated in phase 3 studies for major depressive disorder. Rapastinel would go on to receive a breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA.

“Through our productive research collaboration with Aptinyx and parallel development of rapastinel, we have gained important insights into NMDA receptor modulation as a potential therapeutic approach for depression,” C. David Nicholson, chief R&D officer at Allergan, said in a statement. Data from rapastinel are expected next year.

“We plan to advance AGN-241751 for the treatment of MDD and believe its pharmacological profile will enable it to become an oral complement to rapastinel, further bolstering our pipeline of therapeutics addressing areas of significant unmet medical need,” Nicholson added.

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None of the molecules Aptinyx has already advanced into clinical development—including NMDA compounds granted FDA Fast Track status in chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder—are subject to any Allergan option right, the company said in the statement.

NMDA-acting drugs have been seen as the next major class of drugs for treating depression, with Johnson & Johnson prepping its own filing in the field. J&J has presented a study showing its esketamine outperforming placebo in combination with oral antidepressants, but a second study was unable to achieve statistical significance in older patients

In addition, a 2017 Informa Pharma Intelligence report suggested that NMDA drugs could increase U.S. antidepressant sales from around $4.6 billion a year in 2016 to more than $7 billion in 2024.