Neuroscience Takes Center Stage: MNCs Accelerate Investments in a Promising Field

03 Jun 2024
AcquisitionDrug Approval
The biopharmaceutical landscape is quietly undergoing a transformation, with neuroscience emerging as a hotspot amidst the industry's shifting dynamics. While the cancer therapy arena has seen setbacks with dual antibodies and ADCs, the metabolic disease space, led by weight loss treatments, has experienced a surge in popularity. Concurrently, the neuroscience (CNS) field is witnessing a renaissance, marked by clinical breakthroughs and a series of high-profile mergers and acquisitions.
The renewed focus on neuroscience is driven by the immense unmet medical needs and recent advancements in fundamental research. According to WHO projections, neurological disorders are poised to become the second leading cause of death within the next 20 years. Alarmingly, the number of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other forms of dementia continues to rise, with an estimated 50 million people worldwide affected. Additionally, the prevalence of depression and severe mental illnesses is on the rise, with a worrying trend towards younger populations.
Despite this growing burden, the efficacy of existing treatment options for neurological disorders remains below 50%, presenting a vast clinical demand and market potential. In this landscape, even minor therapeutic differences can lead to commercial success, as "you don't need a cure to have a blockbuster, just an incremental improvement." Moreover, the rapid advancements in sequencing technologies and the resulting drop in costs have enabled exponential growth in genetic research related to neurodegenerative diseases. By analyzing relevant genes, scientists have been able to identify critical signaling pathways and drug targets.
The approval of Biogen's Aduhelm, the first Alzheimer's drug targeting the Aβ cascade, has served as a catalyst for the resurgence of the CNS field. Although Aduhelm faced challenges due to its significant side effects, leading to commercial failure, the recent full approval of Eisai and Biogen's Leqembi (lecanemab) in the United States and China marks a significant milestone. Leqembi is the first drug capable of slowing the progression of early-stage Alzheimer's disease, a landmark achievement in this notoriously difficult-to-treat field.
Sensing the renewed promise of neuroscience, multinational corporations (MNCs) have accelerated their efforts to establish a presence in this space. However, the shadows of past failures have made them more cautious, leading them to favor low-risk, late-stage transactions that avoid the risks associated with early and mid-stage clinical trials. In 2022, Pfizer acquired Biohaven for $11.6 billion, gaining access to the migraine drug Nurtec ODT (rimegepant). In 2023, Pfizer's CGRP receptor antagonist nasal spray, Zavzpret, successfully obtained FDA approval.
The neuroscience field has witnessed three major acquisition deals in 2023: Bristol Myers Squibb's $14 billion acquisition of Karuna Therapeutics, which provided the company with the schizophrenia drug KarXT; AbbVie's $8.7 billion purchase of Cerevel, securing the Parkinson's disease candidate Tavapadon and the schizophrenia and Alzheimer's psychosis candidate Emraclidine; and Biogen's $7.3 billion acquisition of Reata, gaining access to the Nrf2 activator Omaveloxolone for neurological indications.
As the industry navigates the complexities of the neuroscience landscape, the promise of genetic research, advancements in AI-driven precision medicine, and the recent regulatory successes have ignited a renewed sense of optimism. The stage is set for MNCs to continue their aggressive pursuit of promising neuroscience assets, driven by the urgent need to address the growing burden of neurological disorders and the potential for significant commercial rewards.
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