AbbVie to Fund Mitokinin’s Parkinson Research with Option to Buy

AbbVie bought an exclusive right to acquire San Francisco-based Mitokinin after the company completes its Investigational New Drug-enabling studies on its lead program, PINK1, for Parkinson’s disease.

AbbVie bought an exclusive right to acquire San Francisco-based Mitokinin after the company completes its Investigational New Drug (IND)-enabling studies on its lead program, PINK1, for Parkinson’s disease.

The company was based on tech that came out of co-founders Nicholas Hertz and Kevan Shokat’s labs at University of California-san Francisco. They then moved into MBC BioLabs San Francisco in September 2017 with Series A funds from a syndicate led by Mission BioCapital that included Pfizer Ventures.

PINK1 compounds selectively increase the activity of PINK1, which is a master regulator of mitochondrial quality control. It is genetically associated with Parkinson’s disease. The company believes that by increasing PINK1 activity, it can address the mitochondrial dysfunction associated with Parkinson’s.

Under the terms of the deal, AbbVie is paying an upfront payment while Mitokinin will continue to develop its PINK1 program through completion of IND enabling studies for the lead compound. No financial details were disclosed. Once, or if, IND-enabling studies are successful, AbbVie will have the option to acquire the company.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the world-class neuroscience team at AbbVie to bring our PINK1 program forward,” said Daniel de Roulet, co-founder and chief executive officer of Mitokinin. “We look forward to executing on the collaborative research plan, and most of all, to developing much needed therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease patients.”

Although a number of programs have focused on PINK1, nothing to date has come of it. As an article in Molecular Neurodegeneration noted, “That certain cell types in the central nervous system are more likely to undergo neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease is a widely appreciated but poorly understood phenomenon.

Many vulnerable subpopulations, including dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta, have a shared phenotype of large, widely distributed axonal networks, dense synaptic connections, and high basal levels of neural activity. These features come at substantial bioenergetic cost, suggesting that these neurons experience a high degree of mitochondrial stress. In such a context, mechanisms of mitochondrial quality control play an especially important role in maintaining neuronal survival.”

Michael D. Taylor, executive chairman of Mitokinin and operating partner at Mission BioCapital, said, “Mitokinin’s breakthrough PINK1 approach has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Our new relationship with AbbVie is key to continuing our development and potentially bringing this new class of therapeutics to patients.”

The company describes PINK1 as the cell’s surveillance system for damaged mitochondria. A kinase, it only stabilizes in the presence of a depolarized mitochondrion. Once it is stabilized, it activates a pathway, known as mitophagy, that clears the damaged organelle. Activating PINK1 has been demonstrated to oppose the inflammation, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations, and metabolic and proteostatic failures that lead to cell death in Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s a testament to the quality of our science and the strength of our scientific team that we were able to attract a partner of AbbVie’s caliber,” said Nicholas Hertz, co-founders and chief scientific officer of Mitokinin. “I’m excited to continue to demonstrate the therapeutic potential of our specific PINK1 targeting compounds and to push towards the clinic with the AbbVie team.”

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