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AstraZeneca licenses early-stage Alzheimer's drug

Pharma firm to collaborate with Axerion Therapeutics

AstraZeneca (AZ) has continued efforts to strengthen its pipeline by entering a partnership with US-based Axerion Therapeutics aimed at developing a biologic approach to the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

Under the terms of the deal, AZ subsidiary Medimmune has sublicensed rights to a preclinical-stage biologic, originally developed in the lab of Dr Stephen Strittmatter at Yale University. This compound is developed to block the binding of amyloid-beta oligomers to prion proteins (PrP) on the cell surface of neurons.

Amyloid plaques are a well-known characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, and therapies which try to disrupt their formation or break them down have been developed by a number of pharma companies, notably Elan/Pfizer/Johnson & Johnson's bapineuzumab which is in phase III testing.

Axerion's approach is somewhat different, and relies on trying to inhibit the neurotoxic effects of soluble amyloid-beta oligomers, which eventually coalesce to form the insoluble plaques.

By preventing them from binding to PrP - which is thought to be the main receptor for these oligomers on neurons - the hope is that their toxic effects in the brain can be prevented.

In preclinical studies, removing PrP by genetic deletion or blocking its interaction with  amyloid-beta oligomers with inhibitors has been shown to prevent cellular toxicity in vitro and to normalise cognitive function in transgenic mice engineered with human Alzheimer's genes.

"Directly targeting toxic amyloid-beta oligomer binding has the potential to provide superior safety and efficacy versus agents that affect amyloid processing or clearance," said the two firms in a statement.

The licensing deal is the first for AZ's recently-formed Neuroscience Innovative Medicines (iMED) Unit, which was set up in February to conduct discovery research and early development on promising small and large molecule drugs and to seek out risk-sharing partnerships with external research teams.

"This biologic approach is an example of the promising science that fuels our commitment to neuroscience research," said Neuroscience iMED head Mike Poole.

AstraZeneca's head of neuroscience Dr Mike Poole
on the company's neuroscience strategy
 

3rd May 2012

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