Actavis keeps its Phase III promise with Molecular Partners' eye drug

Molecular Partners COO Patrick Amstutz

Actavis ($ACT) is rolling toward a Phase III trial with an eye treatment licensed from Switzerland's Molecular Partners, following through on a promise made in the lead-up to its $66 billion acquisition of Allergan.

Dubbed abicipar, the drug targets the blindness-inducing wet age-related macular edema by blocking VEGF. Allergan licensed the treatment from Molecular Partners back in 2011, betting the company's proprietary DARPin technology could lead to a best-in-class treatment that matches the efficacy of current antibody therapies but without the associated toxicity risks, formulation difficulties and manufacturing costs.

Actavis, in its long courtship of Allergan, pledged to preserve the abicipar program. And, in its first earnings release since closing the deal in March, the company re-affirmed its commitment, today promising to start a Phase III effort by the end of this quarter or early in the next. The plan is to study whether abicipar can safely treat wet AMD while reducing the number of required injections compared to Roche's ($RHHBY) blockbuster VEGF-blocker Lucentis.

That's the company's first public acknowledgement of the collaboration, and Molecular Partners is confident the combination of its technology and Actavis' results-driven approach to R&D can spell success for abicipar.

"We welcome Actavis' high commitment to advancing abicipar through a strong Phase III ophthalmology development program," COO Patrick Amstutz said in a statement. "We appreciate the Actavis/Allergan management team's decision to prioritize the development program for abicipar, despite ongoing integration."

Meanwhile, Molecular Partners pulled off a roughly $100 million Swiss IPO in November to fund its in-house DARPin projects. Most advanced is the Phase I MP0250, a bispecific blocker of VEGF and HGF for solid tumors, followed by MP0274, a HER2-targeting cancer treatment. The biotech also has two early-stage prospects in immuno-oncology and another pair of undisclosed programs in ophthalmology.

- here's Molecular Partners' statement (PDF)
- read Actavis' earnings

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