Collaborations, Deals

Allergan doubles down on NMDA depression drug development efforts, bagging an option to a small molecule followup drug

Close to three years after Allergan $AGN swooped in to buy Naurex and its NMDA drug for depression for $560 million in cash, helping spin out the original team into a new biotech dubbed Aptinyx, the two have followed up with an option deal on a small molecule follow-up program.

Norbert Riedel

Allergan has so far clearly enjoyed its late-stage work on rapastinel, an IV drug which the FDA designated a breakthrough therapy for major depression. NMDA has been a target for years in the R&D crowd focused on depression, and Aptinyx CEO Norbert Riedel has steered a course to proving that his researchers found the therapeutic strategy for getting it right.

Just last fall Riedel scored a $70 million round for his spinout, which put Bain’s Adam Koppel on the board.

There’s no immediate word on exactly how much Allergan is paying for the small molecule follow-up to the IV therapy, which is called AGN-241751.

David Nicholson, Allergan

Allergan’s efforts on depression come as a variety of biotechs are jockeying for position in search of approvals. Alkermes $ALKS was initially stiff-armed on its application after its lead depression drug went 1 for 3 in Phase III, underscoring just how hard it is to illustrate success against high placebo responses. And J&J $JNJ is hoping to score soon with a pitch on esketamine, its low dose version of a horse tranquilizer that is better known as Special K on the party scene. Sage $SAGE, meanwhile, has managed to attract considerable attention for its work on postpartum depression, despite sticking with small study populations.

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders believes he has good odds in this race.

“Rapastinel is a great drug that we have at Phase III,” Saunders told Jim Cramer a few weeks ago. “We’ll get the data [in the] early part of next year. It could be an absolute game-changer for depression.”

“Through our productive research collaboration with Aptinyx and parallel development of rapastinel, we have gained important insights into NMDA receptor modulation as a potential therapeutic approach for depression,” said David Nicholson, the chief R&D officer at Allergan. “We plan to advance AGN-241751 for the treatment of MDD and believe its pharmacological profile will enable it to become an oral complement to rapastinel, further bolstering our pipeline of therapeutics addressing areas of significant unmet medical need.”


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