Pharma, R&D

J&J pays $500M in cash to grab rights to a new star cancer drug at argenx

J&J execs believe they have found their next big cancer drug.

Early Monday the pharma giant announced that it was paying Belgium’s argenx $500 million — $300 million as an upfront and $200 million for equity — to grab the worldwide commercial rights to cusatuzumab (ARGX-110) to treat acute myeloid leukemia and high-risk myelodysplastic syndromes. The deal also comes with $1.3 billion in milestones.

The deal adds to J&J’s growing immuno-oncology group, adding an anti-CD70 checkpoint strategy to the mix. Argenx’s share price $ARGX spiked 10% on the news in pre-market trading.

Yusri Elsayed

The Belgian biotech flagged stellar — but very early-stage — data for this drug in the lead-up to ASH last week. In the Phase I portion of the study researchers tracked a 92% response rate and a stunning 42% complete response with minimal residual response among 12 patients.

That’s all very promising, but it also covers only 12 patients. J&J will also now co-develop the drug with argenx, throwing its ambitious oncology R&D group into the fray.

In the deal — which J&J’s affiliate Cilag inked — argenx is keeping co-promotion rights in the US.

This new deal follows a recent J&J deal with China’s Legend Biotech on their BCMA CAR-T, in which J&J pitched in $350 million in cash. That followed another star turn, which was also completely unexpected, at ASCO in 2017. We’re scheduled to see more data on that drug later today.

J&J has done a string of big cancer drug deals with blockbuster upfronts like this. One of them — apalutamide (ARN-509) for pre-metastatic prostate cancer — is now a star late-stage therapy. J&J picked up this drug with its $1 billion deal for Aragon. These new drugs were part of one leg of the company’s three-leg strategy for growing revenue, with a promise that it can improve significantly on existing drugs — like Stelara, Invokana and Xarelto — while beefing up on a new core focus on pulmonary arterial hypertension through the Actelion buyout.

“We believe CD70 is an important target in the biology of select cancers, and we are eager to accelerate the development of this innovative antibody together with argenx,” said Yusri Elsayed, vice president, hematologic malignancies disease area leader, Janssen Research & Development. “Phase 1/2 data in acute myeloid leukemia showed the activity of cusatuzumab, and we hope to translate these findings to improve outcomes for patients with myeloid malignancies.”

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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