AbbVie will buy private U.K.-based biotechnology company DJS Antibodies in a deal that gives it access to an experimental drug for an aggressive lung disease as well as technology to develop certain kinds of antibody medicines.
AbbVie will pay investors in DJS $255 million upon closing the acquisition, which was announced by the companies Thursday. DJS shareholders could receive further payments if development of the biotech’s lead drug hits certain unspecified milestones.
That drug, dubbed DJS-002, is designed to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF, a serious condition that involves scarring of the lungs and is typically fatal within three to five years after diagnosis. DJS designed its drug to target and block a protein called LPAR1. It’s currently in preclinical testing.
Other companies such as Pliant Therapeutics and Anteros Pharmaceuticals are developing drugs for IPF. In 2019, Roche paid $390 million upfront to acquire Promedior and its pipeline of medicines for fibrotic diseases, including IPF. But there have been clinical setbacks, too. Biogen ended a mid-stage study of an IPF treatment it was developing in 2019.
In addition to its lead drug, AbbVie is interested in DJS’ technology, which it’s using to develop antibody medicines aimed at proteins that are difficult to reach. Specifically, DJS’ platform is focused on G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, a broad group of proteins that are involved in an equally diverse range of cellular processes. They’re the target of many approved drugs, but are wedged in the membranes of cells and therefore can be difficult to isolate and model.
In a statement, AbbVie said acquiring DJS' technology is a “key benefit” of the deal and complements its existing antibody drug research.
Expanding the universe of GPCRs that can be targeted with drugs is also the focus of the recently launched startup Septerna, which emerged publicly in January with $100 million in funding from Third Rock Ventures and other biotech investors.
Based in Oxford, U.K., DJS was backed by Oxford Science Enterprises and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, as well as LifeArc, Sedgwick Yard and Amgen Ventures.