VIB has signed an exclusive license and collaboration agreement with new-kid-on-the-stock-market Denali Therapeutics. The San Francisco-based biotech company – which raised about 210 million euro on its first day on the stock exchange in December – specializes in treating neurodegenerative diseases through rigorous therapeutic discovery and development.
Denali Therapeutics will build on an antibody developed by Bart De Strooper, Wim Annaert and Lujia Zhou (all VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research) to create novel therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.
Back to the genetic basis
The firm’s baseline says it all: “Denali Therapeutics is taking on diseases that pharmaceutical companies have long tried – and failed – to treat.” To succeed where others haven’t, Denali Therapeutics looks into the genetic drivers of specific illnesses. Bart: “That same focus also characterizes our work on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In our lab, we aim to uncover the basic mechanisms behind these conditions and develop antibodies that halt or delay their progression. A prime example of this was Lujia’s PhD thesis, in which we created anti-BACE1, an antibody targeting the BACE1 protein that plays a crucial role in the brain of people suffering from Alzheimer’s.”
However, BACE1 is not the only key factor in the development of the disease. That’s why Denali Therapeutics now wants to create a bispecific antibody that targets not one, but two proteins: BACE1 and Tau. Under the license agreement, they have access to the VIB-developed anti-BACE1 antibody as an important component of their product. The plan is to push the new bispecific antibody from the bloodstream into the brain, where it would hinder the progression of Alzheimer’s. To enhance penetration across the blood-brain-barrier and increase exposure in the brain, the product will also incorporate Denali’s proprietary ATV™ (Antibody Transport Vehicle) technology. The ATV technology is enabled by intellectual property licensed by Denali from UK-based biotech firm F-star.
Next up: Japan
In January of this year, Denali Therapeutics entered into an agreement with Japanese pharma giant Takeda. The latter thereby acquires the right to develop and commercialize therapies for neurodegenerative diseases using technologies and antibodies created by Denali, including the BACE1 program. Bart: “In this way, our anti- BACE1’s journey continues: the deal with Takeda gives Denali the resources to push this program forward. At the same time, it illustrates that large pharma companies are not merely following the unfortunate decision of Pfizer to pull out of this field. Rather, it shows that neurodegenerative diseases are considered a priority by Takeda, as they should be.