AbbVie and Cugene partner to tackle autoimmune diseases


AbbVie and Cugene have teamed up to research autoimmune diseases and cancer in an exclusive worldwide agreement.

The Chicago-based pharma firm, AbbVie, received the option to license worldwide rights to Cugene's CUG252 – a clinical-stage and potential best-in-class Treg-selective IL-2 mutein. It's hoped that adding this drug to its portfolio will further boost AbbVie's commitment to developing novel therapies in immunology.

Cugene will complete a phase 1a study in healthy volunteers and also conduct a phase 1b study in patients with autoimmune or inflammatory disease during the option period. The multimillion-dollar agreement will see Cugene receive an upfront payment of $48.5 million, and the company will be eligible to receive development and regulatory milestones and a license option exercise payment if AbbVie exercises the option. In addition, Cugene may also receive commercialisation and sales-based milestones and tiered royalties.

"We are very pleased to partner with AbbVie, a global leader in the development and commercialisation of innovative immunology therapies," said Cugene's CEO, Luke Li. "AbbVie is an ideal partner for CUG252, with their commitment to R&D, deep therapeutic area expertise, and the global resources needed to maximise CUG252's therapeutic potential for patients suffering from autoimmune diseases.

CUG252 is an engineered IL-2 mutein that selectively activates and expands immune suppressive Treg (T regulatory) cells while shrinking undesirable IL-2 activity on cells that express IL-2 receptors, which is common in patients living with autoimmune diseases. The drug is currently in a phase I trial and is being tested on healthy people.

Cugene's research focuses on developing next-generation precision immunology and oncology medicines to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer. It uses precision immune therapeutics with targeted biology via precision engineering technologies.

Tom Hudson, MD, senior vice president, R&D, chief scientific officer, AbbVie, said the company was striving to develop novel therapies in immunology where there was an unmet need for patients living with complex autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. He added that the collaboration with Cugene was the latest in its efforts to develop and advance potential next-generation therapies, such as CUG252.

Earlier this month, Pharmaphorum reported success for AbbVie's Crohn's disease drug, Rinvoq, which showed that patients could achieve clinical remission over one full year when it is used as a maintenance therapy.

AbbVie's Rinvoq made $1.65 billion from its current indications last year, and it is a key component of the company's strategy to reduce its reliance on the $21 billion-a-year TNF inhibitor Humira (adalimumab), which will lose patent protection in the US next year.