J&J wows with a $350M cash deal to part­ner on CAR-T with Leg­end, a one-time un­known un­til its star turn at AS­CO

J&J has found its next big can­cer drug. In Chi­na.

The phar­ma gi­ant has agreed to pay $350 mil­lion up­front to part­ner with Leg­end Biotech to de­vel­op its BC­MA-tar­get­ing CAR-T LCAR-B38M for mul­ti­ple myelo­ma.

Don’t know Leg­end? You should.

The vir­tu­al­ly un­known biotech wowed AS­CO with ear­ly-stage da­ta on its CAR-T and clear­ly caught J&J’s at­ten­tion. The deal vaults J&J in­to an in­tense­ly com­pet­i­tive race to get the first BC­MA cell ther­a­py to an ap­proval, with blue­bird bio in the lead and Juno and oth­ers in hot pur­suit.

Re­searchers for the com­pa­ny re­port­ed that among 35 re­lapsed, drug-re­sis­tant pa­tients, 33 — 94% — demon­strat­ed clin­i­cal re­mis­sion rang­ing from a com­plete to a par­tial re­sponse. There was a 100% ob­jec­tive re­sponse rate, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors al­so flagged some promis­ing signs of dura­bil­i­ty.

That drug is now un­der re­view by Chi­nese reg­u­la­tors, with a clin­i­cal plan be­ing fleshed out for the US.

In ad­di­tion to pay­ing half the de­vel­op­ment costs, J&J al­so agreed to pay Leg­end half the prof­its from glob­al sales, with the Chi­nese biotech tak­ing 70% of the haul in Chi­na.

J&J has done a string of big can­cer drug deals with big 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.

And it has one more to add to that list.

“De­spite sig­nif­i­cant ad­vances, mul­ti­ple myelo­ma re­mains an in­cur­able dis­ease for most pa­tients, cre­at­ing the need for ad­di­tion­al, high­ly ac­tive op­tions. LCAR-B38M pro­vides an in­no­v­a­tive ap­proach with the po­ten­tial to trans­form the treat­ment of myelo­ma,” said Janssen’s glob­al head of on­col­o­gy Pe­ter Lebowitz. “We look for­ward to col­lab­o­rat­ing with the pi­o­neer­ing sci­en­tif­ic team at Leg­end and ap­ply­ing our ex­per­tise to the de­vel­op­ment of this cell ther­a­py, with the goal of build­ing reg­i­mens aim­ing for a cure.”


Pic­tured: Nan­jing, Chi­na on April 27th, 2017  shut­ter­stock

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While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

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Dormitzer had been with Pfizer for a little more than six years, joining up after a seven-year stint with Novartis, where he reached the role of US head of research and head of global virology for the company’s vaccines and diagnostics unit.

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