J&J innovation team sets up international collaboration to discover Alzheimer's drugs

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in a so-far failed effort to develop a late-stage biologic that could be used to treat Alzheimer's. And it's now prepared to spend hundreds of millions more as it goes back to the drawing board to explore the molecular underpinnings of the disease in an attempt to find new therapies that promise to thwart the disease before it cripples the brain.

The pharma giant's newly created Johnson & Johnson California Innovation Center has struck a deal to collaborate with Germany's Evotec (Frankfurt Stock Exchange: $EVT) to discover new drug discovery targets for Alzheimer's. J&J is providing up to $10 million to cover Evotec's research costs and promising up to $145 million in milestones for each new drug that makes it all the way to the market under a new collaboration dubbed TargetAD.

J&J, which failed to find success with bapineuzumab, was drawn to Evotec's growing database on the links between molecular and cellular changes in the brain with the development of the memory-wasting ailment. It's in that intricate neurological wiring where the company expects to find new drug targets.

Alzheimer's has proven to be one of the toughest targets in the industry, spawning dozens of failed attempts to develop a drug that can help patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. This new collaboration highlights a major shift in Alzheimer's drug research toward the earliest stages of the disease, when investigators believe a therapy is likely to have the best shot of making a real difference for patients.

"We are certainly very committed to Alzheimer's disease and have a number of active R&D programs," Guy Seabrook, J&J's neuroscience therapeutic area head, tells FierceBiotech. J&J set up the innovation centers to connect the company with outside investigators in the industry and academia, adds Seabrook. And this particular collaboration will bring together an international team in Europe and the U.S. that will work together on hatching new discovery programs over a three-year period.

J&J will take over direct responsibility for any programs that make it to the clinic, and Evotec stands to earn royalties on any approved products.

- here's the press release