AbbVie takes option on Gilgamesh CNS drugs in $2bn deal

psychedelic medicines
Satheesh Sankaran

AbbVie has agreed to pay $65 million on an option deal with start-up Gilgamesh Pharma, lining up rights to neuroplastogen compounds that can improve neuroplasticity - the ability of the brain to respond to changes.

The two companies will work together on the development of a “next-generation” of psychiatric medicines, although – for now – the drugs themselves and the target indications are being kept under wraps. other than to say they include mood and anxiety disorders.

AbbVie has also promised up to $1.95 billion in option fees and milestone payments for a series of neuroplastogens, therapies that tap into the mechanisms of the current wave of psychedelic medicines, but are a different class of compound designed to reduce the psychoactive effects of first-generation drugs – such as hallucinations – which mean they have to be delivered in carefully controlled clinical settings.

Gilgamesh’s drug discovery platform relies on behavioural assessment, artificial intelligence, medical imaging, and other technologies like electrophysiology to refine the biological activity of psychoactive molecules.

Gilgamesh drug discovery approach

Its approach is particularly interesting to note, as one of the pioneers of the psychedelic medicines movement, Lykos Therapeutics, is facing questions about the validity of its clinical trials of a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – in part over the difficulties in designing studies with blinded control groups when the test drugs have obvious psychoactive effects.

“Significant unmet need remains for people living with psychiatric disorders and we know that to innovate in this field, we need to pursue novel technologies and approaches,” said Jonathon Sedgwick, AbbVie’s global head of discovery research.

“We look forward to working with Gilgamesh’s world-class team to advance the development of novel neuroplastogens and pave the way for additional treatment approaches in psychiatry,” he added.

The AbbVie partnership follows a $27 million Series A for Gilgamesh in 2021 and a $39 million second round the following year.

The startup's in-house projects include GM-1020, a small-molecule NMDA receptor channel blocker – the mechanism of action for ketamine – which is in phase 2a clinical development for major depressive disorder (MDD).

GM-1020 could provide an oral alternative to Johnson & Johnson’s intranasally-administered ketamine-based therapy Spravato (esketamine), which has been approved by the FDA for treatment-resistant depression and MDD with suicidal ideation or behaviour.

Also in Gilgamesh’s pipeline are GM-2505, a short-acting serotonin 5-HT2A agonist in phase 2 for MDD, an oral neuroplastogen GM-5022 under evaluation for anxiety, depression, and other disorders, as well as GM-3009, an ibogaine analogue designed to have improved safety that Gilgamesh says has potential in PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and substance use disorders.

Image by Satheesh Sankaran from Pixabay