Servier will team up with GeNeuro to develop and market the experimental multiple sclerosis treatment GNbAC1, the first drug intended to addressing a causal factor of the disease, the companies said today. The deal could generate up to $455 million-plus for GeNeuro.

GNbAC1 is a humanized monoclonal antibody designed to stop progression of both relapsing-remitting and progressive forms of MS without hampering a patient’s immune system. Current MS treatments address forms of relapsing-remitting MS, which affect about 90% of patients at onset of the disease, by targeting the patient’s immune system, with the aim of reducing the frequency of relapses.

But such treatments do not always impact overall disease progression, and raise the risk of infections and cancers—downsides that GNbAC1 is designed to combat.

GNbAC1 has successfully completed Phase IIa, showing encouraging signs of efficacy on a first small cohort of patients as well as an optimal safety profile, according to GeNeuro and Servier. GNbAC1 targets MSRV-Env, the envelope protein of MS-associated retrovirus, the expression of which is reactivated and expressed in MS lesions from an early stage in the disease. The protein has been shown to be both pro-inflammatory and an inhibitor of remyelination.

GeNeuro has agreed to oversee development of GNbAC1 until completion of Phase IIb, after which Servier can exercise the option to license the product for all markets excluding the U.S. and Japan.

“With all further development costs in MS funded by our partner, GeNeuro has a clear path forward with a manageable geographic focus on two of the world’s major markets,” GeNeuro Chairman Jesús Martin-Garcia said in a statement.

Servier has agreed to pay GeNeuro $47 million toward the completion of Phase IIb studies. Upon  exercising its option, Servier will cover costs of the Phase III global development program and pay GeNeuro up to $408 million in future development and sales milestones, as well as royalties on future sales.

Servier will also have the option to take an equity stake in GeNeuro as a minority shareholder over the next 12 months.

GeNeuro was created in 2006 at Eclosion, the Geneva life sciences accelerator, as a spin-off of Institut Mérieux, where the technology was originally discovered. GeNeuro develops first-in-class therapies against diseases associated with the expression of pathogenic proteins of human endogenous retroviral origin (HERV). MSRV-Env is a member of the HERV-W family.

Previous articleOtsuka to Acquire Avanir for $3.5B
Next articleWatson’s Nobel Prize Medal to Be Auctioned