Drug Development

Step two: Celgene grabs a $20M option, plots MS PhII for Abide’s cannabinoid drug

Abide CEO Alan Ezekowitz

Abide CEO Alan Ezekowitz

San Diego-based Abide Therapeutics is building on about 5,000 years of human history regarding the medicinal aspects of cannabis. The biotech believes that its drug, ABX-1431, can follow that pathway to a new approach on neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis. And now Celgene is buying into that strategy, handing over $20 million to pick up an option on the drug and embark on a mid-stage development program.

Celgene initially came in with a $50 million upfront to partner with Abide in early 2014. The biotech has been focused on amping up endogenous cannabinoid signaling, and its drug has now passed a Phase I safety test while proving it can get into the brain to do its work.

ABX-1431 is a small molecule inhibitor of monoacylglycerol lipase (MGLL), designed to modulate levels of an endogenous cannabinoid, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which the developer believes will regulate the imbalance of neurotransmitters and inflammation linked to multiple sclerosis.

To put this in human terms, as multiple sclerosis progresses, patients experience a variety of debilitating side effects like pain and sleeplessness. And Abide CEO Alan Ezekowitz believes their therapy can help patients on both scores.

“Disease modification as well as improving symptoms of patients would be a wonderful benefit,” Ezekowitz tells me.

“This is a great fit for Celgene,” he says, adding that Abide delivered a mid-stage ready drug in record time in the deal.

From this stage, Celgene will now take over responsibility for the Phase II trial while Abide is planning a series of Phase Ib studies to explore its potential for a range of cannabinoid-sensitive diseases like neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and movement disorders.

Abide has now built a staff of 40, with 35 dedicated chemists at work in China. That doesn’t come cheap, and Ezekowitz says he’s also looking at some fundraising opportunities, which may include Celgene.

“We have more opportunities than funds,” says the CEO, who is following up with Celgene on its minority stake in the company. “And we have to deliver on what we’re doing.”

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