Merck and Yumanity Sign $500 Million Deal to Develop ALS and FTLD Treatments
By Ruchi Jhonsa, Ph.D.
With a $500 million deal with Yumanity Therapeutics, Merck is planning to expand its small neuro pipeline further.
On 24th June, Merck entered into a strategic research collaboration with Yumanity that will focus on developing new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. Under the deal, the pharma giant will get exclusive rights to Yumanity’s neurodegenerative disease drugs targeting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTLD).
“There remains a tremendous unmet medical need for the treatment of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal lobar dementia,” said Fiona Marshall, Vice President of Neuroscience Discovery, Merck Research Laboratories. “We look forward to working with scientists at Yumanity to advance research and evaluate the potential for therapeutic intervention in these neurodegenerative diseases.”
Yumanity Therapeutics came into being in December 2014 with the aim to develop a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. These diseases progress when some proteins fail to fold in their correct structure. The misfolded proteins are detrimental to the function and viability of the cell and can cause degeneration in the tissue.
The company uses a yeast-based screening platform to identify molecules that can target disease targets, which when modulated can correct the misfolded proteins. This platform has churned several important targets for the neurodegenerative disorders including their lead molecule that corrects alpha-synuclein mediated toxicity. Based on this technology, the company raised $45million in Series A funding in February 2016 that accelerated the discovery and development of novel therapies in neurodegenerative diseases.
Under the collaboration agreement, the pair will work on two preclinical programs focused on protein misfolding. Yumanity will receive an undisclosed upfront payment and success-based milestone payments totaling to $500 million. Merck will also take part in the Series C financing round along with Yumanity’s existing investors some of which include Fidelity Management and Research Company, Pfizer Ventures, Tony Coles, and Dolby Family Ventures.
“We are excited to collaborate with the Merck neuroscience team focused on the goal of bringing novel therapeutic options to ALS and FTLD patients,” said Richard Peters, CEO of Yumanity. “This alliance reflects our shared commitment to neurodegenerative diseases that continue to have high unmet need. We look forward to a productive collaboration.”
Areas of Unmet Medical Need
ALS is a progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord that leads to loss of muscle control and can impair speech and breathing completely. FTLD, on the other hand, encompasses a spectrum of brain disorders that affects frontal and temporal lobes of the brain normally associated with personality, behavior, and language.
Degeneration of neurons in these parts of the brain can lead to personality changes, emotional changes and can affect the ability to use language properly. There are currently four USFDA approved drugs to treat ALS: Radicava, Rilutek, Tiglutik and Nuedexta, and no approved treatment for FTLD. However, these drugs have certain limitations, which makes them suitable for only a certain group of people. Catering this field are big and small biotech companies that are working to bring new innovative therapies for these diseases.
One of them is Prothena Corp., which has programs for Parkinson’s in partnership with Roche and programs for Alzheimer’s, FTLD and ALS in partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb. Simultaneously, Biogen, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and AbbVie are also developing programs for targeting misfolded protein diseases such as Parkison’s.
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