BMS makes quick-fire bets on neurodegeneration, paying $95M to exercise Evotec, Prothena options

Bristol Myers Squibb has pulled the trigger on two neuroscience options, paying Prothena $55 million for a global license to a clinical-phase Alzheimer’s disease drug candidate and handing Evotec $40 million for rights to certain late-stage discovery programs. 

Both deals grew out of Celgene’s push to expand into neuroscience. Celgene, now part of BMS, teamed up with Evotec to develop neurodegeneration treatments in 2016, and the partners extended the alliance for another eight years in March. In between the two Evotec deals, Celgene paid Prothena $100 million for an option on antibodies against targets including tau. 

Updates to both deals emerged in quick succession. Having previously paid $80 million for U.S. rights to Prothena’s anti-tau antibody PRX005, BMS has now decided to pay a further $55 million to license the drug candidate in the rest of the world. The decision follows the release of phase 1 data on PRX005.  

“PRX005 ... has the potential to provide a meaningful disease-modifying treatment option,” Richard Hargreaves, Ph.D., senior vice president and head of BMS’ neuroscience thematic research center, said in a statement. “PRX005 becomes a key component of our commitment to the Alzheimer’s disease community and our neuroscience portfolio, and we look forward to continuing its development.”

The multiple ascending dose portion of the phase 1 trial is ongoing. With BMS holding global rights to PRX005, it will report all updates to the program from now on. Prothena is in line to receive payments for an expanded set of milestones that bump the potential value of the deal up by almost $100 million. The milestones now top out at $562.5 million.

Prothena previously advised (PDF) investors to expect top-line multiple ascending dose data by the end of the year. Other anti-tau antibodies are more advanced—Eisai and Johnson & Johnson have candidates in midphase development—but Prothena thinks it has a best-in-class asset that could work well with the emerging class of amyloid-beta-targeting therapies.

BMS will work to validate the candidate while advancing earlier-stage programs picked up from Evotec. Details are scarce at this stage. BMS announced today that it has paid $40 million for an undisclosed number of late-stage discovery programs against undisclosed targets. The collaboration is focused on disease-modifying treatments of neurodegenerative diseases and has previously spawned a small molecule that targets a protein complex called eIF2b.