Roche rolls out $392M Isis pact in two-pronged attack on Huntington's

Roche ($RHHBY) has stepped up with a $392 million deal designed to marry its work on new technology for delivering brain treatments with Isis' ($ISIS) antisense programs for Huntington's disease. In the deal, the latest in a lengthy string for the Carlsbad, CA-based biotech company, Isis gains $30 million upfront with the rest payable on promised milestones.

The first step of this new collaboration will be devoted to Isis' lead therapy designed to scramble the Huntington's protein as well as follow-up therapies that target various forms of the Huntington's protein, possibly opening a path to new treatments for specific patient groups. And in a tandem move investigators will join forces to develop another program, combining Roche's "brain shuttle" technology for delivery through the blood-brain barrier--which it's been using in antibody research--to allow for systemic treatment of asymptomatic Huntington's patients.

In this early-stage partnership Roche retains the option of licensing the drugs through Phase I, taking over all responsibility for the rest of the clinical programs, with an eye to marching quickly to pivotal studies.

"Central to the partnership is Roche's brain shuttle program, which we see as highly complementary to Isis' drug development work," says Shafique Virani, the global head of neuroscience, cardiovascular and metabolism at Roche Partnering. "This dual track development program ensures whichever candidate compound proves to be most promising--Isis' lead target or Roche's brain shuttle version--can be taken forward to pivotal clinical trials."

Isis has been racking up a string of deals. Biogen Idec ($BIIB) stepped up for three pacts last year with more than a billion dollars. And AstraZeneca ($AZN) stepped up with a $31 million upfront late last year to partner on 5 cancer programs.  

This latest deal is also a winner for the CHDI Foundation, which has been working with Isis on Huntington's disease. The foundation will get $1.5 million of the Roche cash along with a payout of its investment in the work through the milestones in the deal package.

- here's the release