AstraZeneca has teamed up with Takeda to co-develop its preclinical Parkinson’s disease candidate MEDI1341. The deal sees Takeda commit to paying AstraZeneca up to $400 million (€332 million) for the chance to co-develop the alpha-synuclein antibody.
Under the terms of the deal, AstraZeneca will move MEDI1341 into phase 1 later this year, before handing responsibility for further development to Takeda once the drug has cleared that early test. AstraZeneca and Takeda will evenly split the cost of developing and commercializing the drug, as well as any revenues it generates.
Hopes that MEDI1341 can generate sales are based on knowledge of the role alpha-synuclein plays in Parkinson’s and preclinical data on the affinity, selectivity and immune system interaction of the antibody. Alpha-synuclein is a protein found in high levels in the Lewy bodies that form in the nerve cells of Parkinson’s patients.
Evidence that the aggregation of alpha-synuclein drives Parkinson's progression has made it a target for drug developers, some of which are well ahead of AstraZeneca and Takeda. Prothena moved its Roche-partnered anti-alpha-synuclein antibody into phase 2 last month. However, AstraZeneca thinks the high affinity and selectivity of MEDI1341—plus its reduced interaction with the immune system—will make it a safer, more effective drug than competing candidates.
AstraZeneca has opted against testing that hypothesis unpartnered, though. The deal is further evidence of the Anglo-Swedish company’s desire to split the risks and rewards of developing drugs in high-stakes CNS indications.
Evidence of that strategy emerged in 2014 when AstraZeneca let Eli Lilly buy into its then-early phase Alzheimer’s disease program AZD3293. AstraZeneca and Lilly followed up the deal for the BACE inhibitor late last year with an agreement to co-develop an antibody selective for amyloid-beta 42.
All three deals give the programs the support of companies well-versed in neuroscience R&D and soften the boom-or-bust nature of such drugs for AstraZeneca by halving the cost of clinical trials and allowing it to make some money back even if the candidates never come to market.
AstraZeneca, Lilly and Takeda all know the consequences of taking the alternative, all-in approach to high-stakes R&D programs. The fallout of the Mystic immuno-oncology combination trial is still reverberating through AstraZeneca. And Lilly has seen its prospects dented by earlier swings and misses at Alzheimer’s.
For Takeda, the deal for MEDI1341 continues the rolling-evolution Christophe Weber has overseen since he took over as CEO. In that time, Takeda has bought into multiple programs and let stakes in others go—most recently through its deal with Samsung—against a backdrop of upheaval intended to concentrate its R&D activities at a small clutch of hubs.