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Merck & Co signs $289 million Alzheimer's pact with Alectos
 
 
  12 August 2010
Bioworld.com, pharmatimes.com, fiercebiotech.com
 
from Jules: just yesterday 2 studies that are major advancements in alzheimers research were published in Archives of Neurology finding predictors of alzheimer's:
 
Sharpen That Needle (3 Biomarkers Predict Alzheimers's) Editorial
 
Biomarker Trio Detects Alzheimer's - (08/11/10)
 
Diagnosis-Independent Alzheimer Disease Biomarker Signature in Cognitively Normal Elderly People - full text - (08/11/10)
 
Merck & Co has linked up with Canada's Alectos Therapeutics to develop compounds for Alzheimer's disease.
 
Undaunted by its mixed results trying to come up with a new therapy for Alzheimer's, Merck has struck a deal with Canada's Alectos Therapeutics to collaborate on new molecules for the memory-wasting ailment and other disorders. Like other developers, Merck has experienced plenty of frustration trying to develop new therapies for the disease, an incredibly elusive target that afflicts a steadily growing number of seniors.
 
While much of the interest in next-generation Alzheimer's treatments has focused on targeting toxic amyloid plaques in the brain, others have homed in on another target implicated in Alzheimer's disease, the tau protein, in the form of neurofibrillary tangles.
 
The agreement provides Merck with a worldwide, exclusive license to research, develop and commercialize compounds that modulate the enzyme O-linked N-acetylglucosaminidase (O-GlcNAcase), which is believed to be involved in the development of Alzheimer's disease and potentially other disorders.
 
The collaboration has been ongoing since 2009, but the companies did not make any announcement about it at the time, and are not disclosing details of that original deal. Alectos, a spin-off from Canada's Simon Fraser University, was founded in 2007 but has kept a low profile.
 
The early stage licensing deal, which covers discovery through preclinical work, is Alectos' first major collaboration. Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck would be responsible for clinical development and hold worldwide marketing and commercialization rights to any resulting products.
 
Under the terms, Merck has paid Alectos an undisclosed up-front payment and will fund the study of Alectos' existing portfolio of compounds targeting AD. In addition, the biotech is eligible to receive tiered royalty payments on sales of any products resulting from the collaboration.
 
Current approved AD therapies provide relief of symptoms, but do not affect disease progression. The next generation of AD therapies could include disease-modifying drugs that slow, or even arrest, the neurodegeneration associated with this disorder.
 
Vancouver, British Columbia-based Alectos has zeroed in on hyperphosphorylated tau, a toxic form of tau protein, in which the tau protein has too many phosphate groups attached.
 
Ernest McEachern, CEO and co-founder of Alectos, said that Alectos' target, O-GlcNAcase, or OGA, is a non-kinase approach to blocking tau hyperphosphorylation. Modulating OGA, he said, may have the potential to reduce the number of phosphate groups on tau protein, thereby blocking the formation of toxic hyperphosphorylated tau.
 
Amyloid-targeted bapineuzumab, a monoclonal antibody, is among the numerous products being developed to slow the progression of the disease.
 
That product landed in the hands of Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy, a Johnson & Johnson affiliate, which acquired it from Elan Corp. plc.
 
Alectos also has preclinical programs in oncology and neuroscience in its pipeline, but the targets have not been disclosed. The company does not necessarily envision itself as staying focused on discovery and early stage work.
 
Depending on how things go, Alectos could explore either partnering or going it alone on its other programs outside AD, Alectos Chief Scientific Officer David Vocadlo told BioWorld Today.
 
Under the terms of the agreement, Alectos is eligible to receive a total of $289 million through an undisclosed upfront fee, research, development and regulatory milestones, plus tiered royalty payments on sales of any products resulting from this collaboration.
 
Darryle Schoepp, head of neuroscience at Merck Research Laboratories, said that "effective medicines to treat the devastating consequences of Alzheimer's disease are greatly needed, and we are committed to achieve that goal". He added that the Alectos pact "represents a truly innovative and promising new therapeutic approach".
 
Ernest McEachern, chief executive of the privately-held Vancouver-based firm, said that he is pleased Merck likes the look of this "potentially new, disease-modifying therapeutic approach for patients affected by Alzheimer's". He added that "this is an important validation of our scientific leadership in this area and we look forward to working with Merck to realize the full value of this novel mechanism for a range of neuroscience disorders".
 
The two companies will work together on discovery and preclinical development. Merck will take charge of clinical development and will have worldwide rights to market and commercialize any end products.
 
"This is an important validation of our scientific leadership in this area and we look forward to working with Merck to realize the full value of this novel mechanism for a range of neuroscience disorders," Alectos chief executive Ernest McEachern said in a statement.
 
An estimated 5.3 million people are afflicted with Alzheimer's disease in North America, whose precise causes remain unknown. The neurodegenerative disease causes memory loss, a decline in cognitive abilities and behaviour changes and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
 
Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan lived with Alzheimer's for a decade before his death in 2004. Researchers are now aiming at next-generation therapies that could slow or even stop the neurodegeneration that occurs.
 
The partnership announcement comes one month after Merck said it would shut down its research lab in Montreal's Kirkland suburb as part of a wider plan to pare down its operations. Merck pledged at the time to continue to invest in research and development partnerships in Canada, earmarking an additional $100 million alone for Quebec-based companies and schools.
 
 
 
 
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