J&J partners up with Orion on a new approach to fighting Alzheimer's

Despite its high profile failure for the Phase III program of the Alzheimer's drug bapineuzumab, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) hasn't backed away from the field. And now the pharma giant is collaborating with Finland's Orion, financing a mid-stage study of a new drug designed to sharpen the badly damaged minds of patients with the memory-stealing disease.

J&J's Janssen is handing Orion a $31 million upfront fee to help pay for the Phase IIa program for ORM-12741, intended to improve cognitive functions of patients by stabilizing neurostransmission. Neurotransmitters like norepinephrine play a key role in cognition, and Orion believes its alpha-2C adrenoceptor antagonist can help patients. Lundbeck and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals may have the leading program in this field, having just launched the Phase III study for Lu AE58054, which is intended to release norepinephrine in the brain.

This is a significantly different approach from bapineuzumab, which had attempted to treat the disease by dissolving the clusters of amyloid beta that appear in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Amyloid beta remains a primary target, with a variety of programs underway.

J&J gains ex-European rights in the deal, which includes an unspecified roster of milestones. And if the IIa program proves successful, J&J will also co-fund the rest of the clinical trial work.

"In our collaboration with Janssen, I believe we will have the best of all worlds," said Dr. Reijo Salonen, the chief medical officer for Orion. "At Janssen, there is a track record of success and commitment of developing therapies in neurosciences; at Orion, we have a track record of inventing innovative molecules; and for Alzheimer patients, we hope that this partnership will bring them a novel medicine that will make an important difference to their lives."

- here's the press release