Pharma, R&D

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

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