Alpha challenger: Novartis pays UCB $150M to join Roche, AstraZeneca in Parkinson's race

Novartis is betting $150 million on a rival to Parkinson’s disease drugs in development at companies including Roche and AstraZeneca. The deal sees Novartis commit to pay UCB up to around $1.5 billion in milestones for the chance to co-develop a midphase Parkinson’s prospect.

The drug candidate, UCB0599, is a small-molecule inhibitor of alpha-synuclein misfolding. Multiple companies have gone after alpha-synuclein, with mixed results. Biogen dumped its asset after seeing underwhelming phase 2 data. Roche and Prothena delivered mixed midphase data but chose to push on regardless, putting themselves toward the front of the race.

UCB is coming at alpha-synuclein from a different angle than some of its key rivals, with its small-molecule approach enabling oral dosing. The Belgian biopharma company posted phase 1b data on the candidate earlier this year, suggesting it has a manageable safety and tolerability profile.  

Novartis has seen enough promise in the early data to write UCB a check. In return for a $150 million upfront payment, and the promise of much more down the line, Novartis has secured the right to co-develop and co-commercialize UCB0599. UCB will take the lead commercially in Europe and Japan, leaving Novartis to handle the U.S. and all other territories.

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The agreement also gives Novartis a chance to opt in to the development of another UCB prospect, UCB7853. The second drug candidate is an anti-alpha-synuclein monoclonal antibody that is currently in phase 1. Once UCB wraps up the study, Novartis can opt in and jointly fund and manage the rest of the development program.

Novartis’ willingness to bet at least $150 million on the programs is testament to the continued allure of alpha-synuclein, which has remained a widely pursued Parkinson’s target even as clinical trial readouts have raised doubts about the chances of success. 

While Biogen has dropped its asset, AstraZeneca, Lundbeck and Roche—respectively in collaboration with Takeda, Genmab and Prothena—are still in a race that also features a clutch of biotechs. AbbVie withdrew a phase 1 trial of its alpha-synuclein candidate for “strategic” reasons last year but still lists the drug in its pipeline.