Roche and Isis Pharmaceuticals have formed an alliance to develop treatments for Huntington’s disease (HD) based on Isis’ antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) technology. This alliance combines Isis’ antisense expertise with Roche’s scientific knowhow in developing neurodegenerative therapeutics. In addition, Isis and Roche will be collaborating to combine Isis’ ASOs and Roche’s proprietary “brain shuttle” program with the objective of increasing the brain penetration of ASOs with systemic administration.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited genetic brain disorder that results in the progressive loss of both mental faculties and physical control. Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 30 to 50, and worsen over a 10 to 25 year period. Ultimately, the weakened individual succumbs to pneumonia, heart failure or other complications. Presently, there is no effective treatment or cure for the disease, and current treatments focus on reducing the severity of some disease symptoms.
Initially, research will focus on Isis’ lead drug candidate that blocks production of all forms of the huntingtin (HTT) protein, the protein responsible for HD and thus has the potential to treat all HD patients. Isis is also conducting research into treatments that specifically block production of the disease-causing forms of the HTT protein, which has the potential to treat subsets of HD patients. In parallel, Roche will combine its proprietary brain shuttle technology with Isis ASO technology that, if successful, will also allow systemic administration of antisense drugs to treat asymptomatic patients.
Under the agreement’s terms, Roche will make an up-front payment of $30 million to Isis, with total payments related to license fee and pre- and post-licensing milestone payments reaching potentially $362 million, including up to $80 million in potential commercial milestone payments. In addition, Isis will receive tiered royalties on sales of the drugs. Roche has the option to license the drugs from Isis through the completion of the first Phase I trial.
Prior to option exercise, Isis is responsible for the discovery and development of an antisense drug targeting HTT protein. Roche and Isis will work collaboratively on the discovery of an antisense drug utilizing Roche’s brain shuttle program. If Roche exercises its option, it will be responsible for global development, regulatory and commercialization activities for all drugs arising out of the collaboration.
“Huntington’s is a severely debilitating neurodegenerative disease and a large unmet medical need,” said Luca Santarelli, head of neuroscience and small molecules research at Roche. “Patients experience gradually worsening motor function and psychological disturbances, with a significant shortening of life expectancy after the disease is diagnosed. Treatments are urgently needed, and we believe that the Isis approach in combination with Roche’s brain shuttle represent one of the most advanced programs targeting the cause of HD with the aim of slowing down or halting the progression of this disease.”
“We believe that Roche’s expertise in developing CNS drugs, along with their clinical development experience, will greatly enhance our development efforts for this program and allow us to move forward more rapidly. In addition, by utilizing Roche’s brain shuttle technology with our antisense drug discovery capabilities, we have the potential to significantly improve the therapeutic potential for this program,” said B. Lynne Parshall, COO of Isis.
“By partnering our more complex and nuanced research and development programs earlier in development, like our Huntington’s disease CNS program, we add value and resources with partners that bring unique benefits.”