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Eli Lilly Intends to Disarm Axonal Degeneration with Newest Acquisition
By Daniel Ojeda, Ph.D.
On October 15th, Eli Lilly announced its decision to acquire Cambridge-based Disarm Therapeutics to boost its portfolio of medicines treating chronic pain and neurodegenerative diseases. Founded in 2016, Disarm Therapeutics specializes in developing novel inhibitors for the SARM1 protein, a driver of axonal degeneration in response to injury. SARM1 was identified by the company’s co-founders Dr. Jeffrey Milbrandt and Dr. Aaron DiAntonio of Washington University in St. Louis. By preventing axonal degeneration, SARM1 inhibitors could be used to treat a wide range of chronic and acute diseases of the central, peripheral, and ocular nervous systems.
Axonal degeneration has been implicated as a driver for ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, several neuropathies, as well as ocular disorders such as glaucoma. Although, there are some treatments available in the market for some of this disease, preventing axonal degeneration could treat multiple diseases at once; however, therapies targeting cell death and/or excitotoxic mechanisms have not been clinically successful.
Other therapies currently explored for axonal regeneration include stem cell and other cell transplantation for patients with spinal cord injury, as well as electrical stimulation pre-or post-operative for peripheral nerve injury. Additional treatments that can prevent degeneration has the potential to benefit a great number of people.
Last year, during the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), Disarm Therapeutics presented proof of concept data in their preclinical development stages. They showed that their SARM1 inhibitors can protect axons against traumatic, chemotoxic, and mitochondrial injury cultured cells, as well as small animal models. “Disarm’s innovative approach to treating axonal degeneration holds tremendous promise for addressing a wide spectrum of neurological diseases and we have made significant strides toward enabling potentially transformative therapies,” said Dr. Alvin Shih M.D., CEO of Disarm Therapeutics.
Eli Lilly will pay $135 million upfront to purchase Disarm. Additionally, equity holders are eligible to receive up to $1.225 billion in potential development and commercialization milestones. “Lilly is ideally suited to advance this exciting new approach to treating axonal degeneration, and we look forward to seeing patients benefit from the work that Disarm initiated,” Shih added.
This acquisition adds to Eli Lilly’s growing catalog of therapies in development for pain and neurodegenerative disorders. This will add the purchases in recent years of CoLucid Pharmaceuticals, and their migraine treatments in 2017. As well as the licensing of a non-opioid pain medication from Centrexion Therapeutics in 2019.
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