USA — AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company, is making headlines again with its recent announcement of a US$8.7 billion deal to acquire Cerevel Therapeutics, a central nervous system (CNS) drug specialist that spun out of Pfizer in 2018.

This comes on the heels of AbbVie’s US$10.1 billion agreement to acquire cancer drug developer ImmunoGen, reflecting a concerted effort to strengthen its product portfolio and research and development (R&D) pipeline.

At the center of the Cerevel deal is the promising drug emraclidine (formerly CVL-231), designed to address schizophrenia with a groundbreaking mechanism of action that holds the potential for reduced side effects compared to current treatments.

The US$45-per-share agreement not only provides AbbVie with a robust CNS drug pipeline but also positions the company strategically in a therapeutic area that CEO Richard Gonzalez deems a “significant growth opportunity well into the next decade.”

Emraclidine, a selective muscarinic M4 receptor-positive allosteric modulator (PAM), aims to limit its impact on dopamine neurotransmission, addressing tolerability issues associated with existing antipsychotic drugs.

Cerevel is currently conducting phase 2 trials, EMPOWER-1 and EMPOWER-2, with results anticipated before the year-end.

Additionally, an ongoing open-label extension trial (EMPOWER-3) suggests the potential for regulatory filings.

Emraclidine is also being explored as a treatment for Alzheimer’s-related psychosis in an early-stage study.

Beyond emraclidine, Cerevel’s clinical pipeline boasts darigabat, a GABAA receptor PAM in a phase 2a proof-of-concept trial, and tavapadon, a dopamine D1/D5 partial agonist in phase 3 testing for Parkinson’s disease.

An exploratory phase 2a trial of another D1/D5 partial agonist (CVL-871) is underway for dementia-related apathy, with early-stage candidates targeting major depressive disorder (MDD), substance use disorder (SUD), and other CNS conditions.

The acquisition aligns with AbbVie’s strategic focus on CNS, with the company’s current portfolio generating over US$5.6 billion in the first nine months of this year.

The portfolio includes clinical applications of Botox for conditions like myofascial pain and dystonia, the atypical antipsychotic Vraylar (cariprazine), and migraine drugs Ubrelvy (ubrogepant) and Qulipta (atogepant).

These strategic acquisitions come at a crucial time for AbbVie, which is navigating the loss of patent protection for Humira (adalimumab), experiencing a 33% sales decline to US$11.1 billion in the first nine months of the year.

The recent moves are poised to fortify AbbVie’s competitive edge in the pharmaceutical landscape.The transaction, subject to customary financial regulatory reviews, is expected to close in mid-2024.

In a landscape where many larger companies have exited neuroscience drug development, the AbbVie-Cerevel deal signifies a renaissance in the field. Cerevel’s CEO, Ron Renaud, expressed pride in being at the forefront of this resurgence, highlighting the renewed focus on advancing neuroscience.

In a separate move in October, AbbVie announced the acquisition of Mitokinin, a discovery-stage biotechnology company working on a potential disease-modifying treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

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