Biogen has announced that it has acquired a drug candidate designed to improve cognitive function in schizophrenia patients from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

It will acquire PF-04958242, a first-in-class, Phase 2b-ready AMPA receptor potentiator for cognitive impairment associated with schizophrenia (CIAS).

The American biotech will pay Pfizer $75m upfront plus potential milestones of up to $515m and tiered royalties.

AMPA receptors mediate fast excitatory synaptic transmission in the central nervous system, which is often disrupted in a number of neurological and psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia. Researchers hope that improving the function of the AMPA receptors using P PF-04958242 will reduce cognitive impairment.

Although in early stages of development, PF-04958242 has already demonstrated an acceptable safety profile and treatment effect trends in Phase 1b clinical studies. Biogen aims to start a Phase 2b trial in the second half of 2018.

This will be Biogen’s first neuropsychiatry programme, which it described as a ‘strategic emerging growth area’.

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Cognitive impairment involves a decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills, and is a very common symptom of schizophrenia, with the majority of the 20 million people living with schizophrenia worldwide demonstrating some degree of cognitive impairment.

“When cognition is impaired, you lose the ability to make sense of the world. Things we often take for granted in our daily lives, including processing information, planning and remembering, all become difficult or impossible,” said Biogen executive vice president of research & development Michael Ehlers.

“Cognition can be impaired in multiple neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia. And we know that the extent of cognitive deficits in patients with schizophrenia is a strong predictor of daily functioning. We look forward to quickly pursuing development of this potential innovative therapy to treat such a devastating disease.”

Biogen expects the deal to close in the second quarter of 2018, subject to customary closing conditions.

In January 2018, Pfizer announced that it was closing its neurosciences division, including its Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia programmes, to ‘focus on those areas where our pipeline, and our scientific expertise, is strongest’. The deal with Biogen is the first in what is expected to be a series of sales involving Pfizer’s neuroscience assets.

Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos said: “As pioneers in neuroscience, Biogen continues to explore new ways to treat serious diseases where there are few or no options, such as CIAS. Given the significant unmet patient need and Biogen’s ability to apply its scientific expertise in this area, we are enthusiastic to advance development of this asset as we continue to expand our neuroscience pipeline, including in our emerging growth areas such as neuropsychiatry.”