Allergan pays Exicure $25M to discover nucleic acid hair loss drugs

Allergan has teamed up with Exicure to discover treatments for hair loss disorders. Exicure is set to receive $25 million upfront to apply its spherical nucleic acid (SNA) technology to two collaborative programs. 

SNAs consist of nanoparticles with nucleic acids radiating out from their surfaces. Exicure hit on the constructs as a way to get nucleic acids into cells around the body without the use of potentially toxic technologies. Internally, Exicure is using SNAs to get TLR9 agonists into immune cells and target mRNA encoding IL-17RA to treat cancer and psoriasis, respectively, but it sees broader opportunities.

Allergan has stepped up to support the pursuit of some of those opportunities. In return for $25 million upfront, Exicure will apply its SNA technology to two programs for hair loss disorders.

Exicure is handling the early stage work. If Allergan exercises its options on the programs, it will take charge of clinical development and commercialization and make milestone payments to Exicure. Each program is worth up to $97.5 million in development and regulatory milestones, with up to $265 million more in commercial payments to follow. 

With Exicure also in line to receive tiered royalties on worldwide sales that top out in the mid-teens, the deal could be lucrative for the company. However, the potential royalties and lion’s share of the $725 million in milestones are still years away, at best. 

The collaboration opens another front in Allergan’s attempt to tackle hair loss. In June, Allergan made a “multi-million dollar” seed investment in Stemson Therapeutics, a startup that is working on a cell therapy it thinks may create new hair follicles. Earlier, Allergan acquired setipiprant in its $2.1 billion takeover of Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, but that drug underwhelmed in alopecia.

Allergan’s hair loss programs are part of a broader medical aesthetics franchise built around Botox that helped the company attract a $63 billion buyout offer from AbbVie in June.