AbbVie options integrin-based compounds from Morphic, paving way for potential fibrosis treatments
Almost two years after first inking a deal with AbbVie worth $100 million upfront, Morphic Therapeutic received another bit of good news from the pharma giant.
The biotech announced Tuesday morning that AbbVie has exercised a licensing option as part of that 2018 agreement, giving the pharma exclusive rights to two integrin inhibitors programs for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other fibrosis-related diseases. Morphic will receive a $20 million licensing fee with potential future milestone payments.
“The significance of this milestone is something that has not been possible before, oral-specific integrin inhibitors,” Morphic CEO Praveen Tipirneni tells Endpoints News. “It’s a nice validation, and objective marker, that it is possible. It’s hard, but it’s possible.”
Morphic launched back in 2016 after receiving backing from an AbbVie-led syndicate to work at Tim Springer’s Harvard lab researching integrins — proteins that are intended to heal damage, but can cause it when they run amok. Springer, a scientific founder who serves on Morphic’s board, was one of the scientists who discovered the proteins some 30 years ago. The field saw three approvals in the mid-1990s, though for non-oral drugs.
That’s where Morphic hopes to come in. Following several Phase III failures for oral integrin inhibitors in the late 1990s, and the drugs’ withdrawals a few years later, Springer redoubled his research into the area with Morphic eventually sprouting from that effort. Developing this new class of integrin-based compounds came after much difficulty trying to capture what the proteins even looked like, Tipirneni said.
“There are 24 integrins and they’re closely-related proteins, so it’s very hard to create an inhibitor of one integrin without affecting another one,” Tipirneni said. “Because of our crystal structures, we have been able to do it multiple times now.”
Tuesday’s option stems from an R&D deal Tipirneni inked with the pharma giant a couple Octobers ago, in which AbbVie fronted the biotech $100 million — a rare haul for any CEO. Though the amount potentially available through milestones was not made public, Tipirneni said at the time that the figure was “dramatic.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to replicate this situation again,” he added.
That partnership came only a couple weeks after the biotech pulled in an $80 million round of funding to get the company to proof of concept data.
As Morphic moves forward, it’s preparing to research integrin-based medicines in a wide range of fibrosis indications. The biotech’s lead compound, which is owned in-house, targets inflammatory bowel disease and recently had its IND accepted, and the two AbbVie-licensed programs in the preclinical phases.
But the company hopes it won’t be long before it can launch future programs.
“AbbVie is very aggressively going to move them into idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, but also we can look at it in a number of other indications as well,” Tipirneni said. “Because of that nature being applicable in so many different areas, I think it lends itself to a company with capabilities like AbbVie.”