- In 2012, Johnson & Johnson and Astellas entered a partnership deal in which J&J paid $65 million up front to Astellas for acqusition rights to ASP015K, an oral JAK inhibitor intended for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
- J&J has exercised its opt-out option and will hand all rights back to Astellas on January 15, 2015.
- Astellas now plans to move ASP015K into phase III trials without J&J.
The whole point of having agreements with opt-out clauses is to allow companies to exit an agreement—one reason that having upfront payments is an important form of insurance in such deals.
Unfortunately for Astellas, the playing field for RA development, including development of JAK inhibitors, is competitive at the moment. Pfizer already has an improved JAK inhibitor, Xeljanz, available, and Incyte and Eli Lilly are co-developing a JAK-inhibitor based treatment which is already in phase III trials.
Nonetheless, the market for RA and other inflammatory diseases is huge, with the current standard of care for treating RA—TNF-inhibitors—generating billions of dollars in sales each year.