AstraZeneca severs ties to Alzheimer's drug from troubled Targacept

AstraZeneca has further culled the ranks of its experimental CNS meds. The London-based drug giant ($AZN) cut ties with two programs from its U.S. partner Targacept ($TRGT), including one compound in mid-stage development for mild to moderate cases of Alzheimer's disease, while gaining unfettered development options for a group of other Targacept candidates.

Targacept CEO Stephen Hill rendered the restructured alliance with AstraZeneca in a positive light, saying that his Winston-Salem, NC-based company is "pleased to regain unencumbered rights to exploit" alpha7-targeting compounds that AstraZeneca gave up in the amended collaboration announced March 5.

Yet the restructured pact puts further distance between Targacept and its only marquee pharma partner. And the history of the alliance between the companies is marked with multiple setbacks, including the colossal flame put out last year by Targacept's lead antidepressant TC-5214, which failed in four late-stage studies and touched off cutbacks at the company throughout 2012 to conserve cash.

In the restructured deal, AstraZeneca is handing back all its rights to Targacept's alpha4beta2 modulator TC-1734 or AZD3480, a compound in a Phase 2b clinical trial in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. In the alpha7 program to which Hill referred, AZ also gave up an option to license drugs against the target from Targacept for a cognitive disorder or schizophrenia. Still, Astra is holding onto rights to alpha4beta2 NNR modulators, expanding its development options from cognitive disorders and schizophrenia to any therapeutic uses.

For now, Targacept will go it alone in development of TC-1734 in Alzheimer's disease. The major dementia has been a tough to crack in the pharma business, and the more than 5 million Americans with the disease have no drugs to reverse the memory-robbing illness.

"Sadly, new treatment options for Alzheimer's disease have been elusive," Hill said in a statement, "while the need for patients and their caregivers remains immense." 

Targacept's shares were up 2.8% to $4.40 as of 11:30 a.m. ET today. The company's share price has fallen 38% over the past year, however.

- here's the release
- see the Dow Jones article

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