J&J partners with AC Immune on anti-tau Alzheimer's vaccine

Scientists don't fully understand what causes Alzheimer's disease yet and success on the vaccines front has been limited, but that hasn't discouraged Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Swiss biopharma AC Immune from continuing to try. The companies will be partnering to develop a therapeutic vaccine for the disease.

AC Immune announced on Monday that it signed a worldwide exclusive license agreement and research collaboration with Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen to develop and market therapeutic anti-tau vaccines to treat Alzheimer's disease.

Tau proteins cause twisted fibers to form in brain cells, creating tangles that are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. Tau is one of two proteins associated with Alzheimer's; the other is amyloid beta.

Under the agreement, J&J will develop AC Immune's candidate, ACI-35, from Phase II onward. It is currently in Phase Ib. AC Immune first started testing the vaccine in January last year, marking the first time an anti-tau vaccine had reached human trials. According to the release, AC Immune will receive an upfront payment and milestones that could total up to 500 million Swiss francs ($509 million).

This isn't AC Immune's first foray into Alzheimer's. Nor is it J&J's.

AC Immune CEO Andrea Pfeifer

"This is our third major collaboration with pharmaceutical partners involving the Tau protein and underscores the strength of our technology platforms for targeting proteinopathies and our success in bringing to the clinic Tau and Abeta therapies and diagnostics," said Andrea Pfeifer, AC Immune CEO.

AC Immune partnered with Roche ($RHHBY) on crenezumab, a drug targeting amyloid beta. In July last year, AC Immune and Roche subsidiary Genentech reported mixed data from a midstage trial. The drug missed its coprimary endpoints but worked better in patients with milder Alzheimer's.

J&J and Pfizer ($PFE) collaborated on bapineuzumab, which, in the first of Phase III trials in 2012, failed to outperform placebo in moderating mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's symptoms.

J&J has been active in the vaccines field lately, being the third company to bring an Ebola vaccine to human trials.

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