Rare disease drugmaker Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. is paying up to $80 million plus royalties to license a Canadian firm's drug delivery technology to develop an undisclosed drug.
Alexion said it is acquiring exclusive rights to Vancouver, B.C.-based Arbutus Biopharma Corp.'s licensed technology to bring its own drug candidate rapidly through product development.
According to the agreement, Alexion will pay $7.5 million upfront plus up to $75 million in other payments for development, regulatory and commercial milestones. The license will allow Alexion to use Arbutus' proprietary "lipid nanoparticle" technology to deliver "messenger RNA" therapeutics aimed at diseases caused by protein deficiencies.
RNA is a large molecule that requires a specific technology to deliver it inside a cell, said Arbutus Spokesman David Schull. In 2014, Alexion partnered with Moderna Therapeutics in Cambridge to focus on mRNA therapeutics.
"You can't have an RNA as a therapeutic unless you can deliver it where it needs to go in the body," Schull explained. "Arbutus' drug delivery technology enables a messenger RNA molecule to become a medicine. There are no messenger RNA therapeutics yet; it's a new area of science."
A spokeswoman for Alexion said the company is not disclosing the type of drug for which it is obtaining the license.
Arbutus' focus is to develop a cure for chronic hepatitis B.
Arbutus said it will also continue to develop the technology and provide manufacturing and regulatory support to advance Alexion's drug candidate.