J&J beefs up neuro pipeline, bags a new depression drug from Cerecor in $45M deal

Uli Hacksell, Cerecor

Eight months after CERC-501 failed in a key mid-stage study for treating nicotine withdrawal, Cerecore has outlicensed the drug rights on depression to pharma giant J&J for $25 million in cash plus another $20 million milestone.

The drug, an oral kappa opioid receptor antagonist, has been studied for major depression as well as substance abuse at the microcap. And it will now join a neurosciences pipeline at J&J that includes a late-stage program for an inhaled version of ketamine, a horse tranquilizer that has demonstrated dramatic responses for quickly lifting depression and suicidal thinking — and which also has major psychotropic side effects.

Cerecor, which has been beaten into penny stock status after back-to-back clinical failures, saw its shares $CERC surge 17% this morning.

Cerecor is paying J&J $3.75 million of that $25 million upfront, with the rest being set aside to further development of three pipeline drugs with a chance to grab a couple of more. The company is keeping CERC-301, another drug that like ketamine targets the NMDA receptor.

CEO Uli Hacksell, who joined Cerecor as CEO after getting bumped at Acadia, said today he will now step aside from the helm, but stay on as chairman of the board.

Hacksell noted:

For Cerecor the sale provides an important cash infusion and the consequential opportunity to add additional resources into the development of our remaining assets, CERC-301, CERC-611 and CERC-406, and the potential expansion of our drug candidate portfolio. I also believe that the neuroscience expertise and strength of Janssen will be instrumental in achieving the full medical and commercial potential of CERC-501.

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