- Biotech startup Alector just got a $US225 million endorsement from pharma giant AbbVie for its work in neurodegenerative diseases.
- Alector’s developing treatments that harness the body’s immune system to tackle conditions like Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia.
- The work’s still in its early stages, but Alector’s hoping to get five treatments into human trials in the next two years.
A startup that’s trying to harness the body’s immune system to treat neurologic diseases like Alzheimer’s just got a major endorsement from pharma giant AbbVie.
As part of the deal, Alector gets a $US205 million upfront payment and a future equity investment that’s up to $US20 million, with AbbVie having the option to globally develop and commercialize two of the drug targets. Up to this point, Alector had raised $US80 million from Orbimed, GV, Polaris along with pharmaceutical companies including Merck, Amgen, and AbbVie’s venture arm.
The approach of using the body’s immune system to treat a particular disease has so far proven successful in the field of cancer, where it’s known as immuno-oncology. It’s led to remarkable remissions in some patients, along with some first-of-its kind approvals. Alector’s hoping to have similar success in building out the field of “immuno-neurology.”
“It’s really something that’s just emerging,” Alector CEO Arnon Rosenthal told Business Insider. Alector’s looking for treatments that target the body’s innate immune system, using the genetic markers associated with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and ALS. That information wasn’t available five years ago, Rosenthal said.
It’s because of that genetic information that scientists have come to better understand the link between the immune system and Alzheimer’s. The hope is that by more broadly going for immune system, the treatments might have a better shot at working than more targeted approaches that have had some setbacks in the past few years.
AbbVie is developing new treatments to treat neurodegenerative diseases, specifically one that targets the tau proteins that get tangled in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s. Rosenthal said that ideally, these more targeted treatments could be used in combination with the immunotherapy approach Alector’s going after.
“Alector’s unique approach to engaging the immune system to combat neurodegeneration reflects our commitment to target this epidemic in new ways,” Jim Sullivan, AbbVie’s vice president of pharmaceutical discovery, said in a news release. “We recognised the potential of Alector’s research first as an AbbVie Ventures portfolio company and are now eager to partner with them to further develop this platform into meaningful advances for patients.”
It’s still in early stages, but Alector is hoping to get five drug targets into human trials over the next two years. To start, that’s going to include targets for Alzheimer’s and another common form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia.