After some careful thinking, Celgene strikes a $295M discovery deal on neurodegeneration

Bob Hugin, Celgene

Bob Hugin, Celgene

A year ago, Celgene’s Bob Hugin told a roomful of reporters at JP Morgan — which included me — that after some careful contemplation he had concluded that any company that intended to have a big impact on health in 10 years would have to be involved in developing new drugs for neurodegeneration.

Today, the big biotech $CELG, known for its dizzying string of collaborations aimed at maintaining its dominant role in multiple myeloma and blood cancers, said it would pay Evotec $45 million upfront and up to $250 million in milestones to get started on a discovery program aimed at a wide range of neurodegenerative conditions.

The deal covers 5 years and brings Evotec’s iPSC platform into play. As part of the collaboration, Celgene added that it may also choose to screen compounds from its CELMoD library using Evotec’s iPSC platform to evaluate activity in models of neurodegenerative diseases.

The move by Celgene to launch into neurodegenerative diseases comes after a long lineup of pharma giants like AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline either exited the field or executed a major retreat. At the same time, new companies like Denali have been jumping into the game, pursuing new genetic insights into these diseases even as a big player like Biogen makes real progress in searching for a drug that can slow or stop Alzheimer’s, which remains the Holy Grail of neurodegenerative R&D efforts. Celgene’s arrival now sends a new signal about a brewing turnaround.

The clinical record in this field, though, would test the perseverance of anyone involved in drug discovery and development. The last 10 years has been littered with repeat failures, capped by Eli Lilly’s devastating failure on solanezumab, its third straight setback on the same therapy.

Celgene believes it can beat those odds, and plans to be a player when the winnings are being counted by Hugin’s deadline, in 2026.

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