Dive Insight:

Unnerved by negative trial results and enamored with the sales prospects of other research areas, many of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies backed away from neuroscience drug development over the past two decades.

Pfizer, for example, decided in late 2018 that some of its experimental drugs for the central nervous system would be better suited in a spin-out company. About a year later, Amgen announced that it would shutter the vast majority of its neuroscience work.

Yet, some executives and analysts have said that recent advancements in technology and a better understanding of brain diseases could encourage big pharma to reinvest.

By some measures, that’s already happening. GlaxoSmithKline mounted a return to neuroscience last year, first by agreeing to pay $700 millionfor rights to two drugs from Alector that target neurodegenerative disorders, then by partnering with the University of Oxford to establish a new center focused on developing medicines for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS faster and with a higher success rate.

While AbbVie has remained more active in neuroscience than many of its peers, the company has also recently upped its investment in the space. Just this month, it revealed plans to acquire Syndesi Therapeutics, a Belgium-based drugmaker whose research revolves around a protein that regulates neurotransmitters. To AbbVie, Syndesi’s drugs have the potential to treat cognitive impairment and other symptoms of certain neurological illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and major depressive disorder.

And with its freshly inked Richter deal, AbbVie hopes to further grow its neuropsychiatry offerings. Previously, the two companies successfully developed the antipsychotic medication Vraylar, from which AbbVie recorded $1.7 billion in U.S. sales last year, reflecting an annual increase of 82%.

“In collaboration with Richter, we will continue to build on our research that seeks to provide additional insights into our understanding of [Vraylar’s] clinical pharmacology and explore novel chemistry to identify new dopamine receptor modulators,” said Tom Hudson, AbbVie’s chief scientific officer, in a statement.

In addition to the Richter deal, AbbVie announced on Thursday positive results from a late-stage study that tested its drug Qulipta in patients with chronic migraine. Qulipta received Food and Drug Administration approval last September as a preventative treatment for migraines, but AbbVie is hoping to expand the drug’s label and, by extension, sales.

Citing data from Iqvia, Mizuho Securities analyst Vamil Divan wrote in a recent note to clients that almost 27,000 prescriptions for Qulipta have been written from when the drug launched in the U.S. in October 2021 through the end of January.

AbbVie has said it expects just shy of $7 billion in global revenue from its neuroscience business this year, including $200 million in Qulipta sales.