To expand its footprint in eye care, AbbVie Inc.(ABBV, Financial) has struck a billion-dollar deal to gain access to a gene therapy used to treat several common kinds of eye disease. The Chicago-area pharma giant announced Monday that it will be collaborating with Regenxbio Inc. (RGNX, Financial) on the Maryland-based drugmaker's treatment called RGX-314.
At Monday’s close, Regenxbio was up $9.60 to $42.68. The stock’s 52-week high and low are $50.26 and just under $26, respectively. Its shares hit more than $75 in September 2018.
The terms of the deal are: AbbVie will initially send $370 million to Regenxbio in return for global rights to develop and market RGX-314. Regenxbio is also in line to earn another $1.4 billion if it hits certain targets. The companies will equally split any sales of the drug in the U.S., though elsewhere, Regenxbio will be eligible for royalties on net sales.
The deal benefits AbbVie in two primary ways. First, it adds to the company’s position in eye care, which was initiated last year with the $63 billion acquisition of Allergan and its blockbuster Restasis, a topical drug for tear production. Sales from the Allergan unit totaled about $1.75 billion during the first six months of the year.
It also strengthens AbbVie's role in gene therapy research. Earlier this year, AbbVie inked another deal centered on genetic medicines, linking up with Caribou Biosciences Inc. (CRBU, Financial) to improve a certain kind of cell therapy, with the help of CRISPR gene-editing technology, according to Biopharma Dive.
The website Investors.com reported that RBC Capital Markets analyst Luca Issi says the deal signals Big Pharma's continued interest in the gene therapy space. He also noted AbbVie is the right commercial partner given its presence in the eye disease.
"On the less positive side, we are more mixed on the economics of the deal, and we think that transferring ex-U.S. manufacturing to AbbVie is not without risk," he said in a report. He raised his price target on Regenxbio stock by $5 to $55, but kept his sector perform rating.
RGX-314 is a one-time treatment now being tested in a late-stage clinical trial study of patients with the "wet" form of age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, a common eye disease that causes vision loss. A readout from the trial is expected in 2023. Regenxbio is testing the drug against another eye condition called diabetic retinopathy.
The incidence of AMD is expected to grow rapidly. A study published in 2014, for instance, projected the patient population globally would hit 196 million in 2020 and grow to 288 million by 2040.
The Regenixbio therapy isn’t the only game in town. The Food and Drug Administration has already approved several treatments for AMD, among them Roche’s (RHHBY, Financial) Lucentis, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s (REGN, Financial) Eylea and Novartis’ (NVS, Financial) Beovu, all of which work by blocking a protein called VEGF, which encourages the growth of new blood cells.
Beovu was greenlighted by the FDA in late 2019. Lucentis and Eylea already bank billions in annual sales, and just last year, Regeneron raked in nearly $8 billion in global sales of Eylea.
Regenixbio’s drug gives patients another choice. It is designed to be a single injection and deliver a gene that creates proteins meant to neutralize VGF. The company believes this method holds advantages over drugs on the market because the latter requires multiple treatments.
The company, meanwhile, has been working to provide patients with another option in RGX-314. The therapy comes as a one-time injection and is designed to deliver a gene that creates proteins meant to neutralize VGF. Regenxbio believes this approach holds advantages over currently available treatments, which have to be given far more often.