Deals

A monster discovery deal between AbbVie and Google’s Calico gets a new lease on the lab, with $1B more to back aging research

Nearly 4 years after AbbVie and Google’s fledgling Calico stepped up to the altar of drug science and committed themselves to a $1.5 billion partnership on developing a pipeline of anti-aging drugs, they’ve decided to renew their vows.

Bob Cohen

And this time they’re backing it up with a joint $1 billion pledge — $500 million each — to keep the alliance going for some years to come, with an eye to slowly stepping up the relationship in a move toward the clinic. In a rare public display of affection, the two companies are touting the advance of more than two dozen late discovery projects, with a special focus on cellular stress that they believe has some profound long term implications for human health. 

Another piece of info: The famously quiet Calico has built a big team of 150-plus around an HQ base in South San Francisco, with plans to add more.

But that’s about it. If they are working on a revolution in drug development aimed at putting more life into lengthy spans of living, don’t expect any claims along the way about curing cancer, or diabetes or arthritis in mice. This new deal extends their first pact by three years, with Calico responsible for research and early development until 2022. The Google-backed biotech will take projects through Phase IIa over the next nine years, with an option on managing late-stage efforts and commercialization.

Profits — if they come — will be split.

Press execs on what they’ve been working on, though, and you get pointed to a long lineup of papers Calico has published on their work, but no specifics on the most promising targets in their chosen field. How about the budget? Did they spend the $1.5 billion?

Nothing.

Jim Sullivan

“We’re not going to be specific about molecular targets,” says Calico’s Bob Cohen, a Genentech vet and cancer specialist. “It hasn’t been in our nature to hype about what we have.”

That’s exactly how Calico got things started in 2014, taking more of a tech approach to bunkering in their labs as they work on drugs that can bend and stretch the span and quality of an average life. At that time they had 10 staffers. That’s changed a lot, but you still won’t find execs talking loosely about their specific focuses.

“What I can tell you is that we are very pleased with the progress of the collaboration,” says Jim Sullivan, the head of discovery at AbbVie. “We have a number of potential viable clinical programs.” There are unspecified targets for augmenting checkpoint inhibitors, neurosciences is a big focus. And targeting cellular stress systems is key.

Jonathan Lewis

“Our interest in aging goes to the basic roots of aging,” says Cohen. And that includes using a variety of animal models, from mice to naked mole rats and worms — on to yeast.

This next billion should pave the way to the clinic, he adds, where humans can get involved in one of the biggest, longest running discovery collaborations in the industry. AbbVie and Calico believe they are defining a new field of R&D. And they’re thinking in decade-long time spans to reach some important goals — after spending a considerable amount of money.

“It’s also important to bear in mind that it takes many years to get things forward,” says Jonathan Lewis, the vice president of BD at Calico. “We are confident we won’t need to raise more funding.”

(Or not. A representative for Calico  followed up to say that “future funding needs will be driven by the success of these programs.”)


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