Deals

J&J turns its back on Capricor and its failed stem cell tech, taking its money and rep with it

A little more than three years ago, J&J stepped up with a $12.5 million upfront to rent a front row seat on Capricor Therapeutics’ $CAPR Phase II stem cell study, looking to see if their off-the-shelf approach could mend a damaged heart. At the time, CEO Linda Marbán told me that it was well worth the year-long review effort needed to bring the pharma giant to the table, looking to roll ahead with $325 million in milestones.

Linda Marbán

“It says, OK, somebody very large and powerful is taking a look at this technology and saying there’s something there, and that’s the most exciting thing for me,” she noted.

Thursday evening, two months after the biotech noted that their 142-patient study was headed to failure, J&J said they weren’t interested. They washed their hands of the partnership, handed back full rights, and walked away from the deal.

Capricor shares dropped more than 10% Friday morning.

Capricor is left with a stock that has been hammered down to penny stock size, looking to rally investors around a plan to shift focus to Duchenne muscular dystrophy with a plan to use their stem cell tech to tamp down on the inflammation that wreaks havoc on boys. LA-based Capricor — which initially set out to test the potential of technology Linda Marbán’s husband, Eduardo Marbán, developed at Johns Hopkins — noted in May that it would be cutting its work force.

Even three years ago, it was clear that the big players had a waning interest in stem cells. Once the subject of intense speculation, stem cells and the companies that develop them have been shunted aside as repeated studies fell far short of expectations — particularly in heart repair. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which provided significant support to Capricor, has been left defending a long track record with little to show for it. There has been some renewed hope by Bayer, a few Japanese players, and some others, though, that the technology has progressed to the point where the field can start to produce successes.

The CEO now says they can get started with a Duchenne study in the second half. And Marbán isn’t giving up. In a prepared statement, she said:

Although Janssen’s decision removes a potential corporate partner for Capricor, this decision also resolves uncertainty concerning the scope of the license for CAP-1002 and provides Capricor the freedom to enter into new licensing and/or business development opportunities around this promising therapeutic candidate.


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