BioPharma, Pharma

Morphic partners with investor AbbVie on integrin inhibitor development

The Waltham, Massachusetts-based company will receive $100 million, in addition to potential undisclosed milestones and royalties.

A venture capital-backed company developing therapies for fibrotic disorders scored a partnership with one of the country’s largest drugmakers.

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Morphic Therapeutic and AbbVie said Thursday that they had entered a research and development partnership around Morphic’s oral integrin therapies. As part of the deal, Morphic will receive $100 million upfront for exclusive license options on various product candidates. Under the deal, Morphic will conduct R&D activities, including Investigational New Drug application-enabling studies, after which AbbVie will have the option to assume clinical development and commercialization in exchange for a licensing fee. Morphic will also be entitled to undisclosed clinical and commercial milestone payments and royalties.

Last month, Morphic closed an $80 million Series B financing – in which AbbVie Ventures participated – led by Omega Funds and Novo holdings, along with participation from new investors EcoR1 Capital and Invus. AbbVie had also taken part in the previous Series A funding round. Participants in the $51.5 million Series A round included AbbVie Ventures, Omega Funds and founding investors Polaris Partners, ShangPharma Investment Group, T.A. Springer and Schrödinger Inc., with Pfizer Venture Investments and SR One leading.

Morphic’s pipeline page lists five product candidates, all in preclinical development, including small-molecule inhibitors of alpha-V beta-6 and alpha-4 beta-7, along with three more with undisclosed targets. Integrin inhibition is the mechanism of action of a large number of Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs, but those drugs are all injected, whereas Morphic’s aim is to develop integrin inhibitors that are orally available.

The company’s therapeutic focuses are on fibrotic diseases, autoimmune diseases and cancers. In fibrosis and cancers, several members of the alpha-V integrin subfamily can directly activate the cytokine TGF-beta, which in turn activates fibroblasts in fibrotic diseases and suppresses the immune system in the microenvironments of cancerous tumors. In autoimmune diseases, alpha-4 and beta-2 integrins control interactions that allow immune cells to reach sites of inflammation. Most human cells express integrins on the surface, but the proteins’ pathology contributes to a wide variety of human diseases.

Photo: mediaphotos, Getty Images