Roche has entered into a second licensing and research agreement with AC Immune to get access to the fellow Swiss group's ’s anti-tau antibodies for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Under the terms of the deal AC Immune will bank an undisclosed upfront payment and is eligible to receive milestone payments totalling more than 400 million Swiss francs. The Lausanne-based group is also eligible to receive royalties.

Under the multi-year collaboration, AC Immune will work in partnership with Roche's Genentech unit to identify and formulate several pre-clinical candidates. The latter will have global responsibility for development, manufacturing and commercialisation of antibodies resulting from the collaboration.

AC Immune says that tau protein forms twisted fibres inside brain cells and build tangles "that are considered by many in the scientific community as the second major cause of Alzheimer’s disease besides amyloid beta-plaques". Chief scientific officer Andreas Muhs noted that anti-tau-antibodies have proven highly specific to misfolded tau in relevant animal models for Alzheimer’s "and are therefore well suited to be developed as a disease-modifying drug. This has significant potential".

James Sabry, Genentech’s vice president of partnering, said the addition of the anti-tau programme "to our CNS pipeline complements other approaches we are investigating, including crenezumab which we in-licensed from AC Immune in 2006". The latter is an experimental anti-amyloid antibody which is currently being evaluated in a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s patients with mild to moderate symptoms; that deal was valued at more than $300 million, excluding royalties.

In May this year, crenezumab was selected to be tested in the world’s first-ever prevention trial in healthy individuals who are genetically destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease.