AC Immune snags milestone as Genentech picks Alzheimer's asset to advance to clinic

AC Immune has picked up a milestone payment in its CHF 400 million ($421 million) anti-tau collaboration with Genentech. The Roche ($RHHBY) subsidiary handed over the cash after selecting a tau-targeting antibody developed in the collaboration to advance toward the clinic.

Genentech has made the antibody its lead development candidate in its drive to test the tau theory of Alzheimer's disease in the clinic. The asset has yet to advance beyond preclinical, but Genentech has seen enough in the data to suggest the asset has a suitable safety and pharmacological profile for further development. More fundamentally, the work has added to the collaborators' belief that tau is druggable at all. Most drug developers have overlooked the protein in favor of going after amyloid beta.

Lausanne, Switzerland-based AC Immune has benefited from Genentech's open-minded approach to the causes of Alzheimer's disease. While the debate over whether amyloid beta or tau is responsible for the disease has split the scientific community, Genentech has placed bets on both theories. The pioneering biotech is working with AC Immune on an anti-amyloid beta program--the lead candidate from which is in Phase II--and the CHF 400 million anti-tau collaboration. Neither party has revealed how much of the CHF 400 million was handed over in this week's milestone payment.

Genentech will now take responsibility for hustling the asset through the rest of preclinical and into first-in-human studies. The progress is a small boost to AC Immune, but its near-term fate rests on its other collaboration with Genentech. If Genentech decides to advance the anti-amyloid beta antibody it is developing with AC Immune into Phase III, the Swiss biotech may move to raise money in an IPO. The antibody, crenezumab, is AC Immune's most advanced asset. An unpartnered anti-amyloid vaccine is next, followed by an asset Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) swooped on in January. 

- read the release (PDF)