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AbbVie dials back partnership on experimental Alzheimer’s drug

Dive Brief:

  • AbbVie is dialing back a yearslong partnership with Alector, ditching one of two antibody drugs the companies have been testing as potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. AbbVie’s decision follows early data from human trials that showed the drug was safe to use but likely wouldn’t prove effective in further testing. Alector announced in a regulatory filing Thursday that the deal related to this specific drug had been dissolved June 30.


  • The companies will continue to collaborate on that second drug. Although that program has advanced to mid-stage clinical trials, it has been shown to cause a type of brain swelling in some patients with genetically driven Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Alector is one of only a few biotechs seeking to harness the immune system to target neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s. In 2017, AbbVie paid $205 million up front for rights to the two drugs, which aim to stimulate immune cells in the brain called microglia that are necessary to counteract disease.


Dive Insight:

Drugmakers have persisted in researching ways to delay the progress of Alzheimer’s disease in spite of sputtering efforts. Doubts about the effectiveness of the most recently approved drug, Biogen’s Aduhelm, have kept insurers from covering it, and as a result almost nobody has received it outside of a clinical trial setting.

Yet, the number of Alzheimer’s patients and the devastating effects of the disease remain a draw. Around 500,000 people are diagnosed with it every year in the U.S., and they can often live with the disorder for 20 years.

The first wave of experimental drugs to alter the course of Alzheimer’s targeted a protein that can form deposits in the brain and is believed to cause loss of cognition and function. Alector, along with companies like Denali Therapeutics and Passage Bio, are seeking to stimulate immune responses to alter the course of brain diseases.

The drug for which AbbVie returned rights, called AL003, had completed Phase 1 trials in healthy volunteers and patients. Alector reported that it had no safety signals and hit its target, a protein on microglia called CD33. However, the signs of its biological effects were not sufficient “to support further development of the program,” Mizuho analyst Graig Suvannavejh wrote in a July 8 note to clients.

AL002, AbbVie’s other partnered drug, is continuing in a Phase 2 trial expected to have data late next year.

Alector’s most-advanced project is a GSK-partnered antibody drug that’s in a Phase 3 study of patients with a type of mutation-driven dementia.