Allergan’s licensing of the Crohn’s disease project brazikumab brings to $1.5bn the total it has spent on inflammatory disease assets in the past month alone.
With most of these in gastrointestinal indications, the California-based group is sending a signal that it intends to strengthen a portfolio currently led by its irritable bowel syndrome drug Linzess. GI represents the second-fastest growing therapy area for Allergan, and if some of these recent acquisitions are successful it could provide another weighty franchise alongside Botox, dermatology and eye care.
Allergan paid Astrazeneca $250m up front to in-license brazikumab, or AMG 139/MEDI-270, an interleukin-23 targeting antibody that has advanced as far as a large phase II trial in Crohn’s disease. It is subject to a co-development deal with Amgen signed in 2012.
There are more advanced agents in the IL-23 class, including Johnson & Johnson and MorphoSys’ guselkumab – which reported positive data in plaque psoriasis on Saturday – and AbbVie’s risankizumab, and thus brazikumab is a “clinically de-risked” asset, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat wrote in a note this morning.
Guselkumab and risankizumab are in phase III in psoriasis and thus may get to market first, but brazikumab has the most advanced programme in Crohn’s disease. It is in a phase IIb trial that will measure clinical remission following eight weeks of treatment in 342 patients who cannot control their disease with a tumour necrosis factor blocker like AbbVie’s Humira.
This is a significant market, as Takeda’s Entyvio, which is also used second line after anti-TNF drugs, is on track to achieve blockbuster sales in only its second full year on the market in 2016.
Allergan has already developed a substantial presence in GI with Linzess and Viberzi, the former forecast to sell $1.4bn in 2022 and the latter $659m. Both of these are collaborations with Ironwood Pharmaceuticals.
However, September saw it make a huge commitment to the gastrointestinal space, buying liver-disease players Tobira for $534m and Akarna for $50m up front (Allergan’s second move spells showdown with Intercept and Gilead, September 21, 2016). If the universe of takeout targets includes inflammatory diseases, then Vitae Pharmaceuticals adds another $639m in cash outlays in the past month (Vitae buyout marks another comedown for exuberant biotech bulls, September 14, 2016).
Astra’s release of brazikumab, meanwhile, echoes its action with another project emerging from the Amgen collaboration – namely, brodalumab, which Amgen has ditched and Astra has outlicensed to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International. Indeed, the externalisation strategy under chief executive Pascal Soriot has seen Astra transition into primarily an oncology and respiratory company as big earners in cardiovascular and gastrointestinal disease have gone generic.
If late-stage assets outside of the core are on the auction block, it would not be surprising to see such projects as lupus treatment anifrolumab or rheumatoid arthritis antibody mavrilumab also go soon. In phase II and III, Astra is looking more disciplined, with just six of its 22 significant phase II or later R&D assets outside of that oncology and respiratory core.
Allergan and Astra represent two companies engaging in different strategies, one diversifying and the other focusing. Either way can yield success, of course, but both need to have chosen wisely.