Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim has hooked up with US biotechnology group Vitae Pharmaceuticals to develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, in a deal that could net the latter firm up to $242 million.

Under the alliance, the companies will focus on identifying and developing candidates that target the enzyme beta-secretase, which causes the build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain that characterise AD, in the hope that inhibiting this enzyme might slow or even halt its progression.

As per the terms of the deal, Boehringer is responsible for developing and commercialising any promising candidates churned out by the collaboration, while Vitae retains the right to develop any products for other indications.

The US biotech stands to receive an upfront fee of $42 million, with a further $200 million in potential milestones before any drug makes it to market, and could also receive extra commercially-based milestones and royalties on sales if any products are ultimately approved.

AD rates to rocket?
Current AD treatments - such as Pfizer/Eisai’s Aricept (donezepil) and Novartis’ Exelon (rivastigmine) - concentrate on alleviating symptoms of the condition but do not address its underlying causes, and so finding a drug that actually treats the disease is the still the holy grail of Alzheimer’s research, particularly as an ageing society means that its prevalence will only increase.

According to Vitae, global sales of AD drugs, which hit $5 billion in 2008, are forecast to cap $14 billion by 2015, and the companies will be hoping to gain a substantial chunk of this lucrative market if their search for a treatment is successful.