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AbbVie pays $100M up front in fibrosis partnership with Morphic Therapeutic

AbbVie Inc. will pay $100 million up front to enter into a research and development collaboration with Waltham, Mass.-based preclinical drug developer Morphic Therapeutic.

Morphic developed a drug discovery platform for integrin oral inhibitors to block transforming growth factor beta, or TGF-β, thought to be a key to halting or reversing fibrosis, which is the development of excessive connective tissue as the result of chronic inflammation or persistent injury. The disease can cause serious illness and death.

Under the agreement, AbbVie will get exclusive license options on product candidates directed at multiple targets. Morphic will conduct research and development to ready oral drug compounds for a U.S. Food and Drug Administration application and is eligible for undisclosed milestone payments and royalties along the way.

AbbVie may pay a license fee to exercise its exclusive license option and assume responsibility for global development and commercialization once a filing with the FDA is completed.

North Chicago, Ill.-based AbbVie has invested in two funding rounds for Morphic prior to the collaboration.

"Combined with our recent financing, we are in an excellent position to further the development of our pipeline and more fully extract value from what we believe is the world's only broad-based structure enabled integrin drug discovery platform," Morphic CEO Praveen Tipirneni said in an Oct. 18 press release.

Integrins are receptors expressed on the surface of most human cells that control many cell processes, and when they malfunction, they contribute to various disorders such as fibrosis, autoimmune diseases and cancer. Morphic's technology, developed by company founder Tim Springer and Schrödinger Inc., is designed to turn off integrins via an oral drug.

"Fibrosis represents a major area of medical need as it can impact nearly every major organ system and has limited targeted treatments to address the underlying cause," said Lisa Olson, AbbVie's vice president of immunology discovery. "We believe that integrin biology could play an important role in the future treatment paradigm of serious immune-mediated diseases where fibrotic mechanisms contribute to pathology."

The transaction is subject to clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act.