Lilly pays AC Immune $81M upfront for preclinical Alzheimer’s drug

Eli Lilly
Confidence that AC Immune’s program may succeed comes from cell-based assays and mouse models. (Eli Lilly)

Eli Lilly has paid CHF 80 million ($81 million) upfront for the worldwide rights to AC Immune’s tau aggregation inhibitors in Alzheimer’s disease. The deal gives Lilly ownership of a small molecule that has inhibited tau aggregation in preclinical models.

AC Immune’s tau program has sought to discover and develop small molecules that disaggregate tau proteins and stop the misfolded proteins from aggregating in the first place. Through these actions, AC Immune aims to reduce pathological tau aggregates and thereby improve the memories of people with Alzheimer’s and other diseases.  

Switzerland’s AC Immune is a long way from showing that the lead drug in its tau small molecule program, ACI-3024, can fulfill that vision. But Lilly, keen to finally chalk up a success in Alzheimer’s, has nonetheless seen enough promise in ACI-3024 to commit to the drug.

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In addition to the CHF 80 million upfront, Lilly has committed to up to CHF 60 million in near-term development milestones, plus as much as CHF 1.7 billion in more distant payments. The deal also ties Lilly to low-double-digit royalties and the purchase of a $50 million note that is convertible to an equity position in AC Immune.

Lilly’s upfront outlay and commitments have secured it the worldwide rights to the tau aggregation inhibitors in Alzheimer’s. AC Immune has retained “certain development rights in orphan indications” and options to co-develop and promote the drugs in certain indications outside of Alzheimer’s.

AC Immune will take responsibility for moving the inhibitors through phase 1, beyond which Lilly will take charge. The agreement gives AC Immune a partner with considerable experience of phase 2 and 3 Alzheimer’s trials, although those earlier studies ultimately led to failures.

Confidence that AC Immune’s program may succeed where those earlier efforts failed comes from cell-based assays and tests in tauopathy mice models. Those preclinical tests suggested compounds in development at AC Immune can trigger dose-dependent decreases of misfolded tau and that these decreases are associated with improved spatial learning and memory recall.

Of course, many Alzheimer’s drugs have looked promising in preclinical tests and beyond only to crash and burn in phase 3. Lilly has more firsthand experience of that fact than most companies. Despite that, Lilly has once again buckled up and set out to drive an Alzheimer’s program forward.