J&J, Sid Mukherjee's Vor team up to pair bispecifics with engineered stem cells for blood cancer
J&J is one of many Big Pharma drugmakers chasing the golden goose in oncology bispecifics, with some early positive results in lung cancer to show for it. Now, looking to break through in blood cancer, J&J is pairing up with a precocious stem cell player to partner with its pipeline.
J&J’s Janssen unit has tapped Vor Biopharma, the brainchild of Columbia oncologist and bestselling author Sid Mukherjee, to pair the drug giant’s bispecific antibodies with Vor’s engineered stem cells in a marriage the companies hope will change the game in treating acute myeloid leukemia.
Details on the deal were scarce with no financial terms disclosed and little information on future milestones, but the companies did note they would keep all rights and ownership of their respective programs and platforms.
It’s the latest in a string of deals for Vor, which is working on “invisible” stem cell transplants the biotech thinks will allow advanced cell therapies like CAR-T to more effectively attack blood cancer.
Last month, the biotech signed a multiyear deal with Pittsburgh-based Abound Bio to access its platform of single- and multi-target CAR-Ts to combine with Vor’s pipeline. The biotechs will initially target acute myeloid leukemia and think that a multi-targeted CAR-T paired with an HSC transplant could be a path to better treating hard-to-hit cancer.
Vor’s lead program is VOR33, an HSC the biotech is studying solo and as a pairing with CD33 targeting CAR-T candidate VCAR33, which it in-licensed from the NIH, in IND enabling studies in AML.
J&J, for its part, is one of many Big Pharma players looking for a leg up in the bispecific space amid a gold rush for next-gen oncology drugs. Its lead bispecific, an EGFR/MET antibody dubbed amivantamab, demonstrated some early efficacy in lung cancer, whetting investors’ appetites over the drugmaker’s hopes there.
At this year’s ASCO, J&J rolled out early data showing amivantamab and small-molecule TKI drug lazertinib posted a median duration of response of 9.6 months in patients with non-small cell lung cancer with exon 19 deletion or L858R mutation that hadn’t previously undergone chemo but previously failed on AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso.
It’s a meager update for J&J’s combo after the drugs posted a 100% complete response — and whetted investors’ appetites — at last year’s ESMO for EGFR-mutated NSCLC patients who were treatment-naïve. In the relapsed setting, a 45-patient cohort hit a 36% confirmed response rate with 1 complete response and 15 partial.