J&J buys in­to Pro­tag­o­nist’s next-gen pep­tide sto­ry with $50M up­front and $940M in mile­stones

J&J’s ven­ture arm par­tic­i­pat­ed in the start­up rounds for Pro­tag­o­nist Ther­a­peu­tics’ ear­ly de­vel­op­ment, fu­el­ing its work on a new group of oral pep­tide ther­a­pies built to with­stand a per­ilous jour­ney in the gut. And that front row seat J&J took is now pay­ing added div­i­dends with a Big Phar­ma li­cens­ing pact for the Newark, CA-based biotech’s $PT­GX sec­ond drug in the pipeline.

J&J has come in with a $50 mil­lion up­front — a siz­able amount for a pre­clin­i­cal pro­gram — and a full slate of mile­stones worth up to $940 mil­lion to gain ex­clu­sive world­wide li­cens­ing rights to Pro­tag­o­nist’s PTG-200. The IL-23 pep­tide an­tag­o­nist is be­ing built to treat Crohn’s dis­ease, one of its top in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease tar­gets.

Pro­tag­o­nist’s shares shot up 37% on the news.

This drug has a long way to go. It’s slat­ed to go in­to a Phase I tri­al with healthy hu­mans be­fore be­ing steered in­to an IBD study. But Pro­tag­o­nist has a more ad­vanced lead drug in the clin­ic, which like­ly pro­vid­ed some of the proof-of-con­cept da­ta J&J was look­ing for on the drug class.

Pro­tag­o­nist will part­ner with J&J on the de­vel­op­ment work through Phase II, giv­ing the phar­ma gi­ant rights to car­ry it on from there. And the lit­tle biotech is hang­ing on to co-de­tail mar­ket­ing rights in the US.

In an 8-K fil­ing Tues­day morn­ing, Pro­tag­o­nist pro­vid­ed some key de­tails on the pact you won’t find in the re­lease.  J&J is pay­ing 80% of the shared de­vel­op­ment costs on this drug. If the phar­ma part­ner de­cides to stay on af­ter Phase IIa, J&J will hand over $125 mil­lion. And if it picks up the op­tion for Phase III, J&J will add $200 mil­lion more.

Di­nesh Pa­tel

Pro­tag­o­nist CEO Di­nesh Pa­tel took the com­pa­ny pub­lic in 2016, watched shares dou­ble up and then slide to a lack­lus­ter $8.22 on Fri­day’s close, well be­low its IPO price.

As Pa­tel told me a cou­ple of years ago, the biotech set out to build a new kind of oral pep­tide ther­a­py which could with­stand the harsh en­vi­ron­ment of the stom­ach to do its work. Its lead ther­a­py is PTG-100, an al­pha-4-be­ta-7 (α4β7) in­te­grin-spe­cif­ic pep­tide drug now in a mid-stage pro­gram for ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis.

Su­san B. Dil­lon, the im­munol­o­gy chief at Janssen, says this part­ner­ship is the lat­est in sev­er­al steps the biotech and phar­ma gi­ant have tak­en to­geth­er.  “To­geth­er with John­son & John­son In­no­va­tion, we have forged a strong re­la­tion­ship with the Pro­tag­o­nist Ther­a­peu­tics team over the course of sev­er­al years.”

“Our oral pep­tide PTG-200 works by block­ing the IL-23 path­way, a mech­a­nism which has been proven by in­jectable an­ti­bod­ies, in­clud­ing an ap­proved drug and oth­ers in dif­fer­ent stages of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment,” said David Y. Liu, Pro­tag­o­nist’s chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer and head of R&D. “As ev­i­denced by PTG-200, we be­lieve our tech­nol­o­gy plat­form is val­i­dat­ed in its abil­i­ty to gen­er­ate po­ten­tial first-in-class oral pep­tides as the next gen­er­a­tion of tar­get­ed ther­a­py drugs for IBD.”

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via CNP/Alamy)

Glax­o­SmithK­line hus­tles the 7th PD-1 past the fin­ish line with Jem­per­li. But how big will up­take be?

Everything came up sevens for GlaxoSmithKline on Thursday as the pharma notched the seventh PD-1 approval seven years after the first such drugs were OK’ed in Keytruda and Opdivo. But will it bring GSK good fortune?

The FDA granted accelerated approval to dostarlimab, to be branded Jemperli, to treat recurrent or advanced endometrial cancer in a specific subset of patients following platinum-based chemo. It’s a drug that came to GSK through its buyout of Tesaro, which it snapped up for $5.1 billion back in December 2018.

Bio­phar­ma ramps up lob­by­ing spend as drug pric­ing leg­is­la­tion nears

The top biopharma companies in the world collectively spent more than $40 million in just the first quarter of 2021 on lobbying Congress as part of preparations to stave off major drug pricing legislation that’s expected later this year.

Although the numbers are not dramatically higher than what the companies collectively spent in the first quarter of 2020, some like GlaxoSmithKline, Teva, Merck and Johnson & Johnson have already increased their quarterly lobbying spend in 2021 by about $1 million more each when compared to recent quarters in 2020.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (Getty Images)

House De­moc­rats call on Emer­gent ex­ecs to tes­ti­fy on qual­i­ty is­sues next month

The House Oversight Committee is investigating Covid-19 vaccine producer Emergent BioSolutions, which secured a $628 million US government contract to make AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines despite “a long, documented history” of quality control issues, Democrats said in a letter to the contract manufacturer’s executives.

Emergent’s Baltimore plant, which was shuttered on Monday by FDA, has been embroiled in controversy after being forced to destroy millions of AstraZeneca and J&J doses due to an ingredient mix-up and possible contamination.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”