Setbacks

No surprise: AbbVie turns cold shoulder to a messy rheumatoid arthritis partnership with Ablynx

AbbVie is punting yet another high-profile rheumatoid arthritis development partnership. The pharma outfit is taking a pass on Ablynx’s Phase III-ready drug vobarilizumab and shrugging off its $175 million upfront buy-in.

The decision will come as no surprise to any careful observer of RA. The anti-IL-6R recently failed to pass muster in a Phase IIb trial, despite Ablynx’s best efforts to get analysts to look past the failure on the primary endpoint and on to more upbeat results in the study. And AbbVie already has an in-house rival that it’s been much more pumped about.

I wrote up that IIb data back in August, noting that the Belgian biotech had plenty of explaining to do. Not only did the treatment flop on the ACR20 goal, it also failed on a score of improved physical function when combined with methotrexate against methotrexate alone. Eli Lilly and Incyte (baricitinib), GSK and J&J (sirukumab) and Regeneron/Sanofi (sarilumab), meanwhile, have been tackling Humira in head-to-head studies for their drugs.

The latest data set arrived just one month after Ablynx also demonstrated that their drug was at best a matchup against Roche’s Actemra (approved in 2010) on the key ACR scores, though it did better on disease activity scores.

Last year, AbbVie also left Galapagos at the altar with their drug filgotinib. But Gilead immediately stepped in, paying $725 million to acquire partnership rights. Now Ablynx will face the task of finding someone willing to step into AbbVie’s shoes as well, trying to lure in partners with its positive ACR50 and ACR70 scores as well as upbeat results for low disease activity. But it will face some harsh comparisons.

AbbVie, meanwhile, seems content to stay focused on ABT-494, which it believes has a solid shot at emerging from this competitive field as a best-in-class therapy. And Ablynx CEO Edwin Moses says he’s ready to march into a big late-stage study.

“We are obviously disappointed that AbbVie has decided at this time not to exercise its right to license vobarilizumab in RA. The strong Phase IIb results in RA demonstrated that vobarilizumab is not just another antibody but a member of a new therapeutic class with unique differentiating features resulting in a superior efficacy and safety profile as compared to other biologicals. We are absolutely committed to progressing this program and will therefore start the preparations for the Phase III study with the first patients expected to be enrolled by the end of 2017.”


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