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Eisai hunts for next Alzheimer’s drug with new research pact

Dive Brief:

  • Eisai has agreed to a new deal with longtime Alzheimer’s disease partner BioArctic, signing up for a “research evaluation” of a preclinical drug designed to more effectively reach the brain. Announced Saturday, the agreement gives Eisai rights to license the drug, called BAN2802, after reviewing data from the collaboration.
  • The drug uses a technology BioArctic calls “BrainTransporter,” which is meant to get antibody drugs past a biological gateway between the blood and brain. This blood-brain barrier often limits how drugmakers can treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and brain cancer.
  • Begun in 2005, the Eisai-BioArctic partnership yielded the Food and Drug Administration-approved drug Leqembi. While study results for Leqembi showed a modest cognitive benefit, the drug has still struggled to make headway, earning only about $10 million last year as patient and physician adoption has been slow.

Dive Insight:

Leqembi and the leading experimental drugs for Alzheimer’s are designed around the hypothesis that clumps of a sticky protein called amyloid lead to the cognitive decline seen in the disease. These drugs are synthetic antibodies that bind to amyloid in order to keep it from accumulating in the brain.

While early experimental drugs like Lilly’s solanezumab blocked amyloid in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid, Leqembi and donanemab target and remove amyloid from brain lesions. Antibodies that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier could remove more amyloid, or they could allow doctors to reduce how much medicine they use so patients receive smaller or less frequent doses — potentially limiting side effects.

Roche is using its own brain transport technology to more effectively deliver its drug gantenerumab, which on its own failed to help people with Alzheimer’s in testing.

The combined treatment, which Roche now calls trontinemab, has shown promise in a small, early-stage trial. It was able to reduce many patients’ amyloid below detectable levels in 12 weeks, which the company called “best-in-class” potential.

While Leqembi hasn’t yet proved lucrative on the market, its successful development has been a boon for BioArctic. The company last year reported revenue of 616 million Swedish krona, or about $56 million, most of which was related to Leqembi-related milestone payments. The cash influx helped BioArctic turn a profit.

Leqembi could face new competition soon. Eli Lilly’s experimental drug donanemab is awaiting an FDA approval decision, although the agency has delayed it because it wants to call an advisory committee to review certain aspects of its clinical trials.