AbbVie has bolstered its immunology pipeline with a $595m deal for the rights to a psoriasis candidate developed by Boehringer Ingelheim.
The deal gives AbbVie co-development and co-marketing rights to BI 655066, an interleukin-23 (IL-23) inhibitor that is in phase III trials as a treatment for psoriasis and earlier-stage testing for Crohn's disease, psoriatic arthritis and asthma.
The two companies say that BI 655066 has the potential to become a best-in-class psoriasis treatment, providing effective control of skin lesions with dosing delivered just once every three months. Under the terms of the deal they will share responsibility for future clinical development of the antibody.
At the moment the only approved IL-23 inhibitor is Johnson & Johnson's Stelara (ustekinumab), which also has activity against IL-12 and is approved to treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
Stelara brought in almost $2.5bn last year - a rise of almost 20% - thanks to its more favourable side-effect profile compared to older TNF-targeting biologics. However, it is facing competition from new entrants including Novartis' IL-17 inhibitor Cosentyx (secukinumab) and late-stage candidates in the same class such as AstraZeneca's brodalumab and Eli Lilly's ixekizumab.
J&J has said it expects Stelara to continue to grow as it rolls out into new indications such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and axial spondylitis. The company has also suggested that less than 25% of eligible patients are currently being treated with newer biologics so there is plenty of room for market expansion.
BI 655066 has been shown to be superior to Stelara in head-to-head clinical trials looking at the two drugs' ability to clear skin of psoriasis lesions.
"This collaboration positions BI 655066 as AbbVie's lead investigational compound in psoriasis, complementing our robust immunology pipeline", commented the company's chief scientific officer Michael Severino.
AbbVie sells TNF inhibitor Humira (adalimumab) - the world's biggest-selling drug with sales of more than $14bn last year, although the brand has started to show signs of a slowdown. The company has been trying to reduce its reliance on Humira, which accounts for 60% of its total revenues.
Bundled alongside BI 655066 is an anti-CD-40 antibody called BI 655064, which is currently in phase I development and could have potential in the treatment of lupus nephritis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
"I believe the collaboration with AbbVie is the best way to ensure broad access for patients to BI 655066 and BI 655064", commented Boehringer's R&D head Michel Pairet.