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Pfizer Gene Therapy Pact to be Shaken off by Voyager

Pfizer is putting down as much as $630 million in an upfront/milestone-based payment for Voyager’s next-gen gene medicines, hoping to make gene therapies safer and move on after a rocky 18 months. Pfizer will pay $30 million upfront and $20 million in exercise fees for two options, with $580 million backloaded to use Voyager’s so-called TRACER AAV capsids specifically for neurologic and cardiovascular gene therapy programs.

Pfizer recently changed the protocol for its ongoing Duchenne muscular dystrophy gene therapy trial after a series of safety concerns emerged. These capsids were developed to target desired cells and tissues with more precision, at lower doses, and with fewer off-target dangers than traditional AAV and penetrate the blood-brain barrier. The aim is that these will prove to be safer in the long term, and it followed Takeda’s $1.1 billion acquisition with Selecta Biosciences last week.

It focuses on the biotech’s tolerogenic medicines, which selectively reduce undesired immune responses and thus may make these therapies safer. This comes after Astellas reported four deaths in young children due to its now-halted gene therapy trial for AT132 in a rare neuromuscular illness, with three of the deaths appearing to be linked to the medication and its liver effects. Gene treatments have a lot of promise, but they also have a lot of risks.

The future of their use will almost certainly be centered on making them safe for patients, so don’t be shocked if more partnerships like this emerge in the future. This comes as Voyager has been struggling with its issues. In August, AbbVie canceled its Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease collaborations with Voyager after Big Pharma paid $134 million to enter into the two partnerships but discontinued the projects after Voyager completed research.

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