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Google partners with AbbVie on ageing

Published on 04/09/14 at 07:22am
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Google’s healthcare company Calico has signed its first pharma pact with US firm AbbVie in a deal that could be worth up to $1.5 billion.

The new R&D collaboration is set up to help the two companies discover, develop and bring to market new therapies for patients with age-related diseases. This, the companies say in a joint statement, includes treatments for neurodegeneration and cancer.

Calico, an abbreviation of the ‘California Life Company’, says it will use its scientific expertise to establish a world-class research and development facility, with a focus on drug discovery and early drug development.

Meanwhile AbbVie will provide scientific and clinical development support and its commercial expertise to bring new discoveries to market. The firm says it is the first drugmaker to forge a research collaboration with Calico.

On the financial side the two companies will each initially provide up to $250 million to fund the collaboration, with also the potential for both to add an extra $500 million into the pot.

Calico will be responsible for research and early development during the first five years, and will continue to advance collaboration projects through Phase IIa for a ten-year period.

AbbVie will support Calico in its early R&D efforts and, following completion of Phase IIa studies, will have the option to manage late-stage development and commercial activities.

Both parties will share costs and profits equally. Calico says it expects to begin filling ‘critical positions immediately’ and plans to establish a ‘substantial team’ of scientists and research staff in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Calico vision

Calico was established a year ago and is headed up by Art Levinson, the former chief executive and guiding force behind cancer biotech Genentech, which was bought by Roche in 2009.

Levinson had been on the board of Roche, but yesterday announced his immediate departure “so as to avoid any conflict of interest given his role as chief executive at Calico,” given that he will now be working closely with AbbVie, a big pharma rival of Roche.  

Speaking on the deal, Levinson says: “Our relationship with AbbVie is a pivotal event for Calico, whose mission is to develop life-enhancing therapies for people with age-related diseases. 

“It will greatly accelerate our efforts to understand the science of aging, advance our clinical work, and help bring important new therapies to patients everywhere.”

Google recently bemoaned the tough regulations around the healthcare market and indicated it would not be proceeding forward in this area.

But this seems to have been a momentary complaint given today’s new deal, and its ongoing financial commitment to public DNA testing firm 23andMe, which recently joined forces with Pfizer.  

Google also announced in July that it would collect samples of human tissue from thousands of people as part of an experiment that could help doctors to detect the earliest signs of cancer and other fatal diseases.

The firm’s so-called ‘Baseline Study’ will also take blood, urine, saliva and DNA samples to determine what makes up a healthy human being.

And in the same month Google also revealed its pact with Swiss firm Novartis to develop a ‘smart’ contact lens designed to help diabetics track their blood sugar levels.

Diversification

AbbVie is also looking to diversify after it was spun off in early 2013 from Abbott Laboratories.

Its main earner, the arthritis drug Humira (adalimumab), is currently the world’s top-selling medicine, and accounts for 60% of AbbVie’s sales.

But the US firm is keen to wean itself off of its reliance on Humira, which will start losing its patent toward the end of the decade, and in July agreed to pay £32 billion ($55 billion) to acquire Irish specialist biotech Shire.

This will open up the firm to a lower tax rate and more drugs for rare diseases. This, combined with today’s deal with Calico, should help further its diversified business model.

“This collaboration demonstrates our commitment to exploring new areas of medicine and innovative approaches to drug discovery and development that augments our already robust pipeline,” says Richard Gonzalez, chairman of the board and chief executive at AbbVie. 

“We are pleased to be working with such outstanding scientists as Art Levinson, Hal Barron and their team. The potential to help improve patients' lives with new therapies is enormous.”

Ben Adams 

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