AbbVie steers past the wreckage, reserves $224M to kick off once-and-done gene therapy with Voyager to fight Alzheimer’s

AbbVie $ABBV is hitching a ride on the gene therapy tech platform at Voyager $VYGR to try a new approach to tackle Alzheimer’s.

The two companies announced this morning that AbbVie is striking up a collaboration to use Voyager’s AAV vector tech to develop new delivery vehicles that can deposit the instructions needed to produce tau-focused antibodies in the brain.

Tau and amyloid beta — proteins that can cluster in the brain — remain the two key targets in Alzheimer’s, even after a series of major setbacks in the field raise fresh questions about how much we know and don’t know about this devastating diseases.

Jim Sullivan

AbbVie, though, figures it knows enough to make this R&D shot worthwhile. The company will pay $69 million in cash to get the pact started, and will add up to $155 million more just for the preclinical and Phase I milestones. Milestones on each vectorized tau antibody can reach up to $895 million. And AbbVie isn’t restricting itself to Alzheimer’s.

Voyager is one of a group of biotechs which have been developing gene therapies that are delivered by these AAV or lentiviral vectors. The blood/brain barrier that protects our gray matter has also been a big hurdle in Alzheimer’s, blocking drugs that might address the biology of the memory wasting disease. Merck’s recent failure on the BACE approach with veribucestat underscored 15 years of steady failure in Alzheimer’s, but any winning blockbuster would make AbbVie’s sizable ante here look like small change .

“Voyager’s vectorized antibody platform presents an innovative approach to addressing challenges in treating neurological disorders associated with the administration of biologic therapies,” said Jim Sullivan, vice president, pharmaceutical discovery, AbbVie. “This collaboration has the potential to address the needs of patients who live with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy and frontotemporal dementia.”

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