Biogen has signed a deal with Atlas Venture-backed Rodin Therapeutics that could result in the acquisition of the Alzheimer's disease-focused company.
Massachusetts-based Rodin is focusing on the development of small-molecule drugs for Alzheimer's that work via epigenetics, modulating cellular processes that result in gene expression being switched on or off.
The company's lead candidate is an inhibitor of histone deacetylase 2 (HDAC2), which is known to be upregulated in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and is thought to suppress normal neuronal function. The compound has not yet started clinical trials but is expected to do so within the next two to three years.
Biogen and Atlas are stumping up $17m to help Rodin advance its candidate into the clinical testing phase, and Biogen has also taken an option to buy Rodin outright for $485m.
Rodin's pipeline would complement Biogen's own activities in Alzheimer's, which include the development of aducanumab (BIIB037), which caused a stir last year after data from a clinical trial showed it could improve cognition as well as reduce the characteristic amyloid plaques seen in the brains of patients with mild disease.
Biogen said at the time that after multiple clinical failures for other compounds, this was the first evidence that an amyloid-targeting drug had shown an effect on cognition, although treatment with aducanumab was also associated with a troublesome side effect at its highest dose (10mg).
As this was also the most effective dose clinically, Biogen subsequently tested a 6mg dose in the hope of preserving activity while avoiding toxicity, but this study failed to meet its objectives at an interim stage.
Biogen has its own research programme in neuronal epigenetic research, according to Samantha Budd Haeberlein, Biogen's vice president of clinical development.
"Our investment in Rodin fits perfectly into our mission to bring innovative therapies to people with neurodegenerative disease and few treatment options," Haeberlein said.
Aside from Alzheimer's disease, Rodin's epigenetic modulators are also thought to have potential in other neurological conditions including Parkinson's disease, cognitive impairment in schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).