Ferrer signs $122M biobucks deal for ex-US license to Verge's phase 1 ALS therapy

Spanish pharma Ferrer is following in Big Pharma’s footsteps by targeting the AI-powered neuroscience R&D work of Verge Genomics.

Ferrer has signed off on over 112.5 million euros ($121.7 million) in combined upfront and potential development and commercial milestone payments for the ex-U.S. rights to Verge’s clinical-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) drug VRG50635. Verge is also entitled to a slice of the royalties should VRG50635 make it to market.

Verge is currently assessing the PIKfyve inhibitor in a phase 1b proof-of-concept trial for the treatment of sporadic and familial forms of ALS. Under the agreement, Ferrer will acquire the rights for the drug in Europe, Central and South America, Southeast Asia and Japan, while Verge will retain the license for the U.S. and other territories.

VRG50635 will fill an ALS-shaped hole in Ferrer’s pipeline that was created in January when the Ferrer’s oral formulation of edaravone—an antioxidant that is sold in a different formulation by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma as Radicava—failed a phase 3 trial.

“We believe VRG50635 represents a promising new approach to treating this devastating disease, and we look forward to combining our strengths to accelerate the development of this potential treatment,” Ferrer’s chief scientific and business development officer Oscar Pérez said in a March 25 release.

Verge has touted VRG50635 as “one of the first drugs to enter clinical trials that was entirely discovered and developed using an AI-enabled platform.” Verge’s CEO Alice Zhang said today’s licensing deal was “another clear recognition of the value of our Converge platform and its ability to identify novel targets more successfully for complex diseases that can be rapidly translated to the clinic.”

“We're thrilled to work with Ferrer to progress VRG50635 through clinical development and towards potential commercialization,” Zhang added. “Ferrer has extensive experience navigating clinical development and regulatory landscapes across the globe. They also understand the complex and variable payer and reimbursement environments in the territories in which we will collaborate.”

Verge has had plenty of external interest in its R&D work. In September 2023, AstraZeneca signed a $42 million upfront deal to find new targets for rare neurodegenerative diseases. The biotech also inked high-profile deals with Eli Lilly and Merck & Co. back in 2021.

While VRG50635 has already entered the clinic, Verge’s Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and frontotemporal dementia programs remain in preclinical development.