Boehringer nets option on Autifony schizophrenia drug

When Autifony spun out of GlaxoSmithKline in 2011, its main interest was in using voltage-gated ion channel modulators to treat hearing loss.

Boehringer is paying €25 million ($29 million) upfront and committing to up to €600 million more to land an option on Autifony Therapeutics’ schizophrenia drug and associated platform. The deal gives Boehringer the chance to purchase a Kv3.1/3.2 positive modulator platform and the phase 1b schizophrenia drug it spawned.

For now, Boehringer has paid €25 million for the option. Up to €17.5 million more could follow if Autifony achieves certain near-term milestones during the option period, beyond which the sizes of the numbers attached to the deal grows. All in, Boehringer could end up handing over €627.5 million to get its mitts on Autifony’s assets. 

The centerpiece of the deal is AUT00206, an oral Kv3 potassium channel modulator that is being tested in two phase 1b trials. AUT00206 advanced into the ketamine challenge study and clinical trial of schizophrenia patients on the strength of preclinical data suggesting it acts on the negative symptoms—such as apathy—and positive symptoms—such as hallucinations—associated with the condition.

AUT00206 in schizophrenia is the near-term jewel of Autifony’s research into using Kv3.1/3.2 positive modulators to treat CNS disorders. But both it and Boehringer think the approach has applications beyond schizophrenia, for example in the treatment of Fragile X syndrome.    

That breadth, and what is suggests about the biology Autifony is targeting, is part of the appeal to Boehringer.   

“The program aligns with Boehringer Ingelheim’s drug discovery strategy for neuropsychiatric diseases, which focuses on exploring the neurobiological basis of certain key symptom domains that can occur across a range of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and depression,” Jan Poth, Ph.D., therapeutic area head CNS and immunology at Boehringer, said in a statement.

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For Autifony, the deal validates the decision to expand into schizophrenia. When Autifony spun out of GlaxoSmithKline in 2011, its main interest was in using voltage-gated ion channel modulators to treat hearing loss. That changed in the following years as researchers accrued evidence of Kv3 channels’ control of parvalbumin-positive interneurons, the malfunction of which is implicated in schizophrenia.

Autifony tapped Pfizer, SV Life Sciences and others for cash to further its interest in schizophrenia in 2015, leading to the advance of the clinical trial program that has now attracted the attention of Boehringer. 

The British biotech remains interested in treating loss hearing. Boehringer has expressed an interest in exploring that side of the platform, too, but schizophrenia is the main thrust of its release disclosing the agreement with Autifony.