Neurocrine pens $2.6B biobucks pact with Sosei Heptares for next-gen neuro targets

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Neurocrine Biosciences and Sosei Heptares, no strangers to major research pacts, are joining forces for a range of early- to midstage neuro assets.

This area has proven to be a high-risk R&D target for the industry, but Neurocrine is willing to put down $100 million—and up to $2.6 billion—in a heavily backloaded biobucks deal to get its hands on Sosei Heptares’ muscarinic receptor agonists for schizophrenia, dementia and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

Neurocrine is already plotting a phase 2 with selective M4 agonist HTL-0016878 in schizophrenia next year, while also in the cards are phase 1 tests for a dual M1/M4 and a selective M1 agonist in the year after.

Under the pact, Sosei Heptares retains the rights to develop M1 agonists in Japan, while Neurocrine nabs co-development and profit share options.

Muscarinic receptors are crucial to brain function and researched in drug targets in psychosis and cognitive disorders.

Sosei Heptares says in early, mainly preclinical work, this platform has shown the potential to deliver therapeutic effects while avoiding both the harmful side effects caused by nonselective agonists and the efficacy issues experienced in some older patients.

This came out of its G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) stabilized receptor platform (StaR), technology also being used by the likes of Roche’s Genentech, which signed up with the biotech in a $1 billion biobucks pacts two years ago.

Neurocrine, too, has form when it comes to relatively small upfronts but heavily backloaded biobucks pacts, having penned a deal with gene therapy player Voyager Therapeutics in 2019 worth $1.8 billion. It will, however, hope to have better luck with Sosei, given that earlier this year it exited that Voyager pact after an FDA clinical hold seemingly scared it away from the deal.

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Neurocrine also has its own work across similar areas as its new deal with Sosei, including more recently picking up an exclusive license to seven assets from Takeda’s early- to midstage psychiatry pipeline, including clinical-stage programs in schizophrenia, treatment-resistant depression and anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure.

The Takeda pact hasn't, however, seen much luck in schizophrenia, with the pair's asset luvadaxistat failing a phase 2 earlier this year. The companies said they would continue work on the drug, though Neurocrine now has a backup in hand.

“Our partnership collaboration with Sosei Heptares to advance their selective muscarinic agonist portfolio leverages the strengths of both our organizations with one goal in mind, to bring important medicines to patients who need better treatment options,” said Kevin Gorman, Ph.D., CEO at Neurocrine Biosciences.

“We continue to add potential best-in-class compounds to our growing pipeline, which further positions Neurocrine Biosciences as a leading neuroscience-focused biopharmaceutical company.”