Evotec said today it has won a $5 million first milestone payment from Celgene in the companies’ 10-month-old, up-to-$295 million-plus partnership to create treatments for neurodegenerative diseases that include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.

The milestone payment follows the successful completion of a screening campaign using Evotec’s induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based screening platform, the company said.

Celgene agreed to use Evotec’s iPSC platform to identify disease-modifying therapeutics for a broad range of neurodegenerative disorders when the companies launched their exclusive collaboration in December 2016. Celgene agreed to pay Evotec $45 million upfront, up to $250 million in payments tied to achieving milestones, and up to low double-digit royalties on product sales generated by the in-licensed programs.

In return, the deal gave Celgene exclusive options to license the worldwide rights to Evotec compounds identified from the latter’s compound library

Under their collaboration, which has an initial term of five years, Celgene retained the option to screen compounds from its proprietary CELMoD® library using Evotec's iPSC platform to evaluate activity in models of neurodegenerative diseases.

“Together with our colleagues at Celgene, we are committed to the discovery and development of new treatment options in this field. We are very pleased to have achieved this very important first milestone in this iPSC-based alliance and look forward to advancing these exciting programs,” Evotec CSO Cord Dohrmann, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Evotec says its iPSC platform is designed to achieve iPSC-based drug screening at industrial scale and standards for throughput, reproducibility, and robustness. The development of the platform emerged in part from the CureMotorNeuron research collaboration and license agreement collaboration initiated in 2013 by Evotec with Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and involving the laboratories of researchers Kevin Eggan, Ph.D., and Lee Rubin, Ph.D.

Additional aspects of the platform were built up, Evotec added, through its 10-plus-year collaboration with the CHDI Foundation in Huntington's disease.

In addition to the platform, the company says its neuroscience expertise includes a dedicated neuroscience drug discovery team with more than 60 full-time equivalent employees; a focus on pursuing phenotypic/pathway paradigms to identify, validate, and prosecute disease-modifying approaches in Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Huntington’s disease; and technologies such as neuronal differentiation and disease modeling from human iPSCs, as well as phenotypic screening and cellular high-content assays, adeno-associated virus (AAV)-based target validation,  and high -throughput histology.

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