Vertex beefs up gene-editing work with new discovery pact; Verrica shares jump on molluscum drug data; J&J’s inks two deals

→ Four months after Vertex $VRTX and its allies at CRISPR Therapeutics got started on their first trial using gene editing tech for beta thalassemia, the Boston-based biotech is broadening its base in the field with a new research partnership. 

Vertex announced Thursday morning that it has drawn up a new pact in which Arbor Biotechnologies will focus on discovering proteins as they advance gene-editing tech on cystic fibrosis and “four other diseases to be selected later.”

The deal comes with upfront cash, research support, milestones and more — none of which we learn anything about in detail.

“Arbor’s proprietary high-throughput screening platform will enhance our ongoing efforts to develop innovative gene-editing therapies,” noted Vertex R&D chief David Altshuler.

→ Shares of Verrica Pharmaceuticals $VRCA shot up 18% this morning after the West Chester, PA-based biotech reported positive results from its Phase III CAMP-1 and CAMP-2 pivotal trials with VP-102 for molluscum contagiosum. “Molluscum contagiosum can often have a negative impact on the quality of life of affected children, exacerbated by the skin irritation and inflammation that can result as complications of the disease. The high lesion clearance rate demonstrated at Day 84 for VP-102 compared to placebo in the Phase 3 trials is clinically significant and could potentially position VP-102 to become the standard of care for treating molluscum,” stated Lawrence Eichenfield, the lead investigator.

→ It is no secret that lung cancer is difficult to diagnose before it has metastasized, with a small percentage of cases detected at an early stage, when the disease is more treatable. Genomic diagnostics company Veracyte $VCYT is joining forces with Johnson & Johnson $JNJ to develop interventions that can measure genomic changes associated with lung cancer via a simple brushing of a person’s airway. The collaboration is expected to accelerate two key lung cancer programs for Veracyte, including the development of the first non-invasive nasal swab test for early lung cancer detection. Veracyte gets $5 million upfront and a potential $15 million in future milestone payments.

→ Johnson & Johnson $JNJ has been busy deal making. On Thursday, its Janssen unit said it had tied up with precision antibacterial drug maker Locus Biosciences to develop CRISPR-engineered bacteriophage therapeutics targeting two key bacterial pathogens for the potential treatment of infections of the respiratory tract and other organ systems. Locus’ DNA-shredding technology is designed to precisely and selectively zap unwanted bacteria, leaving the good bacteria undisturbed. Locus gets $20 million in initial payments, and is eligible to receive a total of $798 million in potential milestone payments and royalties.

→ In addition to its pact with NGM today, Merck has also lined up a new discovery deal with Cocrystal Pharma on proprietary influenza A/B antiviral agents. Cocrystal gets an unspecified upfront and up to $156 million in milestones.

With contribution by Natalie Grover.

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Skyhawk Therapeutics Waltham, MA
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Elektroki Boston, MA
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Elektroki Boston, MA
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Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT

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