Lilly pens antisense neuro pact with Evox Therapeutics

Eli Lilly is pretty busy with a series of partners working at breakneck speed on its antibody hopefuls for COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped it from penning a new pipeline pact in central nervous system diseases.

It’s teaming up with U.K.-based exosome therapeutics firm Evox Therapeutics to get in on the delivery of RNA interference and antisense oligonucleotide drug payloads for neurological disorders.

The biobucks are worth a headline-grabbing $1.2 billion all told, but the upfront is much smaller, just $20 million, with Lilly also funneling a $10 million investment in exchange for a convertible bond from Evox.

Under the pact, which is centered around a five-target license agreement, Evox will be responsible for exosome engineering in order to achieve brain/CNS-targeting, drug loading and analytics and some in vitro assay development, as well as material supply for initial in vivo studies.

In essence, it does all the early work, and Lilly will only step in to take over once this has been done. Specific details on targets were not released.

Oxford, U.K.-based Evox is focused on engineering naturally occurring, nanosized vesicles to get drugs to currently inaccessible targets. These vesicles, known as exosomes, transfer molecules between cells. By hijacking the mechanism, Evox thinks it can get proteins and nucleic acids to otherwise inaccessible targets, such as those across the blood-brain barrier.

A number of companies and biotechs are working on similar approaches and tech, with Lilly itself just over a year ago setting up a similar financial package deal with Avidity Biosciences to use its antibody-oligonucleotide technology to zero in on new targets and propel new medicines toward the clinic.

Other companies have also made the same sort of pacts, including back in 2018 Swiss major Roche, which struck a deal with PureTech Health to develop oral antisense oligonucleotides.

RELATED: Lilly taps Avidity's antibody-oligonucleotide conjugate tech in $35M deal

And in 2016, Biogen’s Spinraza became the first approved antisense oligonucleotide for the fatal, genetic condition spinal muscular atrophy type 1. This was the same year Evox spun out of the University of Oxford.

Antonin de Fougerolles, Ph.D., CEO of Evox, said: “This agreement with Lilly allows us to explore both the potential of our platform to deliver oligonucleotide payloads, a class of drugs of increasing importance, and the suitability of our exosome technology for CNS targeting. This new deal with another major pharmaceutical company highlights the breadth of opportunity that exists with exosome-based drugs."

This isn’t the biotech’s first pharma partner, as it counts Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim as its first big deal, penning a 2017 collab that looks a lot like its Lilly deal.

“We are pleased to enter into this pre-clinical research and licensing collaboration with Evox, and look forward to studying the potential for their technology to support the development of future medicines for neurological disorders,” added Michael Hutton, Ph.D., vice president of neurodegeneration research at Lilly.