Deals, Setbacks

J&J has decided — pharma giant dumps its development deal on Geron’s imetelstat, shattering shares

J&J has dumped its once highly touted collaboration pact with Geron $GERN on imetelstat.

After flagging an upcoming announcement on Wednesday night, Geron reported early Thursday that the pharma giant opted to punt the troubled program — once held up as one of its potential blockbusters in late-stage development.

John Scarlett

Geron’s shares have been on a roller coaster ride throughout the year as investors bet on J&J’s $JNJ next move. At one point a job posting linked to the drug spurred a 42% spike in the share price as day traders hunted for clues about this drug’s fate. As you can imagine, shorts have been anticipating a field day as well.

They got it today. Geron’s shares were blasted, sinking 66%.

J&J has been keeping people guessing about this for the past two years. The biotech announced in the spring of 2017 that J&J’s review of the data from two studies of imetelstat warranted continued work in myelodysplastic syndromes and myelofibrosis. But the pharma giant $JNJ was still reserving the right to quit if the data didn’t hold up. That came after investigators at J&J cut loose a low dose of their partnered cancer drug and suspended enrollment on the high end until it gets a better look at more mature data from patients who have already been treated.

After repeated setbacks, things had begun to look better for Geron back in 2014, when the FDA lifted clinical holds on imetelstat and J&J stepped in with a deal to split R&D costs and pay up to $935 million in fees and milestones. Only $35 million of that package, though, was provided as an upfront.

Geron has been looking for therapeutic gold for more than 20 years, but punted its ambitions in stem cells back in 2011 so it could rebrand itself as a cancer company. Almost all of its eggs, though, are in the imetelstat basket.

But why quit now?

“We believe the clinical results from IMbark provide valuable insights into the potential future development of imetelstat for an underserved relapsed and refractory myelofibrosis patient population,” said Geron CEO John Scarlett. “We also believe the combined data of 38 patients from the initial and expansion cohorts for the target patient population from the Phase 2 portion of IMerge support further development of imetelstat, and we are therefore prioritizing the initiation of the Phase 3 portion of IMerge.”


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