Roche bets $120M on UCB's anti-tau Alzheimer's antibody

Roche
Under the deal UCB will fund and carry out a proof-of-concept study in Alzheimer’s, after which Roche will decide whether to take the program forward. (Roche)

As Roche plugs away at its anti-amyloid treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, it’s adding a tau-targeting treatment to the mix. The Swiss pharma is handing over $120 million upfront for the right to develop UCB’s anti-tau antibody. If all goes to plan, milestone payments and royalties could bring the deal’s total close to $2 billion.

The drug, UCB0107, is designed to block or reduce the buildup of tau proteins in the brain that lead to nerve cell damage and death. UCB is already developing it for progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), an uncommon neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement, gait, balance, speech, vision, mood and behavior.

Under the deal, UCB will fund and carry out a proof-of-concept study in Alzheimer’s. Once that’s done and the data read out, Roche may choose to take over development or hand the rights to the asset back to UCB.

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"In Alzheimer's Disease, we are continuing to explore new molecules that address the key pathways of this complex disease,” said James Sabry, global head of Roche Pharma Partnering, in a statement.

“Our commitment remains strong on exploring multiple approaches with the hope that our research and development, including this collaboration with UCB, will lead to a disease-modifying medicine that could positively impact millions of people with Alzheimer's Disease,” he added.

The deal comes nearly six months after Roche’s gantenerumab, an antibody targeting amyloid beta, failed to slow cognitive decline in patients with an inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease. The phase 2/3 study, sponsored by Washington University School of Medicine, tested gantenerumab, Eli Lilly’s solanezumab, and placebo in 194 people, following them for up to seven years. It found that neither drug slowed decline enough to hit the primary endpoint.

RELATED: Lilly and Roche's antibodies fail late-phase Alzheimer's test

Although the outcome prompted Lilly to ditch plans to seek approval for solanezumab in that patient population, Roche is all systems go on a pair of phase 3 studies of gantenerumab that are slated to read out in 2022.

Levi Garraway, chief medical officer at Roche, said in a statement in February that the phase 2/3 failure “does not reduce our confidence in the ongoing phase 3 GRADUATE clinical program.” He also said it is impossible to draw firm conclusions from the phase 2/3 trial.

The Washington University study wasn’t the first setback for gantenerumab—the drug failed a phase 3 trial in 2014 before the Swiss pharma resurrected it in 2017. That same year, Roche started a second phase 3 trial of crenezumab, its AC Immune-partnered anti-amyloid antibody. But in 2019, the company pulled the plug on those studies after an interim analysis deemed the drug likely to fail.

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