AbbVie adds to neuroscience pipeline with $1bn Syndesi buy

by Stephen Riddle

Four years after spinning out from Belgium’s UCB, Syndesi Therapeutics and its SV2A modulator programme has been bought by AbbVie for $130 million upfront.

The total value of the deal could rise to $1 billion, dependent on whether Syndesi’s SV2A drugs – headed by early-stage clinical candidate SDI-118 – progress in development and reach the market.

SV2A is an emerging target in neurological diseases, a poorly understood transmembrane glycoprotein that is thought to play a role in regulating the release of neurotransmitter molecules from neurons.

It’s not wholly new however as some established drugs, namely UCB’s Keppra (levetiracetam) and Briviact (brivaracetam), bind to SV2A and inhibit its activity as a way to treat epilepsy.

Syndesi’s approach is to modulate the activity of SV2A in other ways, in order to encourage neurotransmission between nerve synapses, in the hope of treating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

UCB actually ran a small trial of Keppra in Alzheimer’s patients who were also having seizures, showing improvements in attention and verbal fluency, although it wasn’t clear whether the benefit were a by-product of reduced seizure burden or came from some direct impact on cognition.

Rather than follow that research up in-house, UCB instead opted to spin the programmes off into Syndesi in 2018 with $21 million in funding from itself and other investors including the venture capital arms of Novo Nordisk and Johnson & Johnson.

SDI-118 and other SV2A candidates in development at Syndesi lack anti-epileptic properties but have shown promising pro-cognitive effects in preclinical studies, according to Syndesi.

The lead drug is currently in a phase 1b study and is being developed for cognitive impairment and other symptoms associated with a range of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and major depressive disorder.

For AbbVie, Syndesi’s portfolio bolsters a neuroscience arm headed by drugs like Botox for muscle spasticity, Qulipta (atogepant) for migraine prevention and recently-filed antidepressant Vraylar (cariprazine), and backed up by half a dozen other clinical-stage candidates for stroke, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Syndesi is its second acquisition in the neuroscience area in the last 12 months. In March 2021 it agreed to buy Mitokinin and its PINK1 clinical programme for the potential treatment of Parkinson’s disease for an undisclosed amount.

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