• Companies will co-develop drug for psoriasis, Crohn's, asthma
  • Psoriasis treatment targets crowded market including Humira

AbbVie Inc. will pay Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH at least $595 million to join in developing two drugs aimed at treating psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, asthma and other diseases where the immune system goes awry.

Beyond the upfront payment, closely held Boehringer is eligible to receive additional, undisclosed payments tied to developmental and regulatory milestones, as well as royalty payments on sales, the companies said in a joint statement released Monday.

In light of the transaction, AbbVie has lowered its 2016 guidance for earnings excluding one-time items to a range of $4.82 to $5.02 a share. In January, the North Chicago, Illinois-based company had forecast profit per share of $4.90 to $5.10.

“We have a long track record in immunology through our experience with Humira, and it’s an area we remain committed to,” said Michael Severino, AbbVie’s chief scientific officer, in a telephone interview. Data from Boehringer’s drugs so far “are truly spectacular and have real potential for differentiation, representing a new treatment option for patients.”

The drugmakers will co-develop BI 655066, an experimental drug currently in a final-stage trial for psoriasis, a sometimes debilitating condition that produces raised, rough patches of skin. The drug, which blocks a protein involved in inflammation called IL-23, is also in mid-stage trials for Crohn’s disease, psoriatic arthritis and asthma. AbbVie will be responsible for commercialization, while Ingelheim, Germany-based Boehringer has an option to co-promote the drug for asthma, if approved.

Crowded Market

The treatment is aimed at entering a crowded field that includes Humira, AbbVie’s top product with $14 billion in fiscal 2015 sales. There are anti-IL-23 treatments under development by Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. Novartis AG recently gained approval for a psoriasis drug targeting another inflammatory protein called IL-17. Eli Lilly & Co. and AstraZeneca Plc also are developing IL-17 inhibitors. All of the drugs would compete in the same market -- about 7.4 million adults in the U.S. have psoriasis.

Based on Phase 2 data, BI 655066 has a good chance of being “best-in-class,” according to Severino. In the study, 69 percent of patients on the highest dose with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis maintained clear or almost clear skin nine months after taking the experimental treatment, compared to 30 percent of patients taking J&J’s Stelara, which blocks both IL-23 and IL-12.

AbbVie also gains rights to BI 655064, a drug that blocks an immune-cell receptor known as CD-40. Boehringer is testing the drug against lupus in an early stage study, and CD-40 may play a role in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, according to the release. Boehringer will lead development, and AbbVie has an option to advance the program depending on the drug’s performance in clinical trials.

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