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AbbVie acquires Parkinson’s drug in latest biotech buyout

AbbVie has acquired a small biotechnology company and its experimental treatment for Parkinson’s disease, adding to a recent string of deals that have expanded the large drugmaker’s presence in neuroscience.

The target company, Mitokinin, was established a decade ago and built on discoveries from scientific co-founders Nicholas Hertz and Kevan Shokat. Its work revolves around an enzyme known as PINK1, which research indicates can protect neurons from damage and death by keeping the mitochondria — the cell’s main energy supplier — running properly.

Notably, dysfunctional mitochondria are seen in a variety of brain and nervous system diseases, from Alzheimer’s to Huntington’s. Mitokinin says its drugs are designed to increase PINK1 activity and thereby help patients with Parkinson’s.

AbbVie has now exercised an exclusive right to acquire Mitokinin that it purchased back in 2021. Under that earlier deal, Mitokinin received an undisclosed payment and agreed to lead development of its most advanced program until the completion of studies that could get the drug cleared for human testing.

Per terms of the acquisition announced Thursday, Mitokinin will receive $110 million upfront. Its shareholders are also eligible for further payments totaling as much as $545 million, provided the company’s PINK1 program hits certain development and commercial milestones. Additionally, AbbVie has agreed to pay tiered royalties on any resulting products.

“Parkinson’s disease continues to be a major unmet medical need, impacting patients, caregivers and society. With this acquisition, we are excited to grow our neuroscience portfolio and explore a potential new treatment option for PD,” said Jonathon Sedgwick, AbbVie’s global head of discovery research, in a statement.

Until recently, many of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical firms had pulled back their investments in neuroscience, deterred by clinical trial setbacks and enticed by other areas of drug development that were producing powerful — and lucrative — new treatments for cancer, rare diseases and immune system disorders.

Yet some of these players have returned to the space over the past few years. In 2021, GSK agreed to pay at least $700 million for rights to two experimental medicines for neurodegenerative diseases that were developed by the California-based biotech Alector. Months later, GSK announced a partnership with the University of Oxford to create a new center for drug development that would initially focus on diseases of the brain.

AbbVie, meanwhile, has counted neuroscience as a core unit for some time. The company last year recorded more than $6.5 billion in net revenue from its slate of brain and nervous system drugs, which includes the mood disorder medication Vraylar, the migraine therapy Ubrelvy, as well as Botox. AbbVie also sells Duodopa, a medicine first approved in 2015 as a treatment for motor fluctuations in people with advanced Parkinson’s.

The purchase of Mitokinin comes on the heels of several neuroscience-focused acquisitions announced this summer. In late August, Otsuka Pharmaceutical said it would buy Toronto-based Mindset Pharma for 80 million Canadian dollars, or roughly $59 million. Two weeks prior, Harmony Biosciences disclosed plans to drop at least $60 million on Zynerba Pharmaceuticals and its experimental drug for rare neuropsychiatric disorders.

Novartis joined in the fray too, announcing in July its acquisition of DTx Pharma, a biotech attempting to treat neurological conditions by using RNA technology.

Large drugmakers like Amgen and Johnson & Johnson have also been backing startups dedicated to neuroscience. Pfizer’s venture arm, notably, was among the early investors in Mitokinin.