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Prothena, Celgene ink neuro R&D pact potentially worth $2B+

Celgene has been making deals left and right lately, kicking off the year with its $1.1 billion acquisition of Impact Biomedicines and plunking down $9.9 billion to get its hands on Juno and its CAR-T stable. Its latest project? An R&D collaboration with Prothena to develop new drugs for neurodegenerative diseases.

The partnership centers on a trio of proteins implicated in the development of multiple neuro diseases: tau, TDP-43 and an undisclosed target, Prothena said. Tau, a well-known marker of Alzheimer’s disease, also plays a role in progressive supranuclear palsy, frontotemporal dementia (FTD), and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. TDP-43 is linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and the most common subtype of FTD, behavioral variant FTD.

Prothena has identified antibodies that target tau and TDP-43, the company said. It hopes to prevent misfolded tau from binding to cells and to block the transmission of misfolded tau and TDP-43 from cell to cell, thereby staving off their toxic effects. Prothena also has three monoclonal antibodies in its pipeline, which target α-synuclein and amyloid, other proteins that are implicated in neuro diseases.

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Celgene is handing over $100 million up front and making a $50 million equity investment in Prothena. In return, it will get the exclusive right to license clinical assets in the U.S. when INDs are filed. If Celgene goes through with this step, it would then have the right to expand the license to global rights at the end of phase 1.

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While the sticker price of the deal is $150 million, Prothena could potentially reap $2.1 billion in future payments. According to an 8-K filed Tuesday, Celgene will pay up to $80 million per program if it exercises the U.S. rights and $55 million per program if it exercises global rights. And there’s another $562.5 million per program up for grabs in regulatory and commercial milestones. Prothena’s stock was up 20% after hours.

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“Prothena has a legacy of innovation in neuroscience and a team with a deep understanding of biological approaches that target protein misfolding disorders. Our collaboration leverages each company’s core expertise in protein homeostasis and protein clearance to target proteins that are the underlying cause of many neurodegenerative and orphan diseases,” said Richard Hargreaves, Ph.D., Celgene’s corporate vice president of neuroscience and imaging. “The programs we have chosen to collaborate on have the potential to provide foundational assets from which we can build new therapeutic approaches to these currently untreatable neurological disorders.”

The news comes just weeks after Celgene paid $101 million to partner with Vividion Therapeutics on the discovery of small molecules to target hard-to-drug proteins, including those involved in neurodegenerative disease.

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