Lilly inks potential $440m antibody oligo conjugate deal

Eli Lilly has teamed with Avidity Biosciences for the development of a new class of RNA-based drugs, antibody oligonucleotide conjugates (AOCs).

The deal sees Big Biopharma firm Eli Lilly pay Avidity Biosciences $20 million (€18 million) upfront and invest a further $15 million into the L Jolla, California-based company. Depending on development, regulatory and commercialization milestones, Avidity could receive a further $405 million.

Lilly hopes to use Avidity’s AOC tech platform to generate “new therapeutic targets in disease areas that have been challenging to pursue using oligonucleotide-based approaches,” Kent Hawryluk, Avidity’s chief business officer.

“Lilly’s extensive research, development, regulatory, and commercial capabilities make them an ideal partner, and we look forward to a long and productive relationship.”

“Using RNA-targeting drugs, one can target RNAs as a means to modulate the expression and/or structure of a target protein,” Avidity claims.

“Considerable progress has been made toward the delivery of oligonucleotides to liver, and multiple products directed to hepatocyte-expressed genes have received marketing approval or are in late-stage clinical development. However, delivery of oligonucleotide drug candidates to other cells and tissues has been primarily limited to those tissues where drug can be administered locally, such as the eye and the central nervous system.”

Therefore, in the same vain as antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), AOCs use monoclonal antibodies to deliver oligonucleotide payloads directly to non-hepatic tissues. These include muscle, heart, liver, tumors, and immune cells.

With the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) treatment Spinraza (nusinersen) in December 2016, the oligonucleotide space itself is beginning to blossom, following a false start in the 1990s.

Biogen, which markets Spinraza, recently reported quarterly sales of $518 million for the oligonucleotide. Meanwhile, firms including CordenPharma, Agilent, and Aji Bio have recently invested in oligo manufacturing capabilities.