- Janssen Biotech Inc., the drug development arm of pharma giant Johnson & Johnson, has licensed another antisense drug candidate from Ionis Pharmaceutical Inc., handing the biotech a $5 million fee under the companies' existing collaboration agreement.
- Janssen will assume all future development and commercialization responsibilities for IONIS-JB12-2.5Rx, which is designed to treat a gastrointestinal (GI) autoimmune disease by tapping down production of an undisclosed target in the GI tract.
- Ionis first teamed up with Janssen in December 2014, securing $35 million upfront and another nearly $800 million in potential milestones. Through February of this year, Ionis had earned $47 million in fees and milestones, including $10 million paid by Janssen to license the first candidate under the collaboration.
The $5 million earned from Janssen will have little material financial impact for Ionis, which currently lists about $1 billion in cash, equivalents and short-term securities on its balance sheet. It does, however, signal Janssen's continued interest in exploring Ionis' antisense technology for treatment of GI autoimmune disease.
Last July, Janssen licensed the first candidate from Ionis under the 2014 collaboration, which covers three programs in total. Specific targets haven't been disclosed for that candidate or the one licensed this week.
If the most recently licensed drug succeeds in clinical testing, Ionis stands to gain a lot more from Janssen. Per the agreement, Ionis can earn up to $175 million in development milestones, up to $420 million in regulatory milestones and as much as $180 million in commercialization milestones.
Overall, Ionis has built up an impressive pipeline of more than two dozen potential treatments, many of which are developed under collaboration with or licensed to the biotech's partners.
Just last week, for example, Ionis handed over rights to an antisense candidate for a rare childhood genetic muscle disorder to the French biotech Dyancure SAS for a $5 million license fee. That deal is potentially worth up to another $205 million stretched over development, regulatory and commercial milestones.
Larger partners include German drugmaker Bayer AG, Novartis AG and Biogen Inc., with whom Ionis developed the spinal muscular atrophy drug Spinraza (nusinersen).
That Ionis has such a roster of collaborators has helped the company absorb setbacks, such as when GlaxoSmithKline plc in August decided against licensing two rare disease drugs amid a broader R&D restructuring.
The decision was surprising given that one of those drugs, inotersen, had just succeeded in a Phase 3 study. Undeterred, Ionis has moved forward and filed for U.S. approval of inotersen — a treatment for hereditary TTR amyloidosis that could give Alnylam Pharmaceuticals Inc. a competitive challenge in that market.
Alnylam's drug, patisiran, appears to be more effective and about equal in terms of safety, so could win a larger market share. But Ionis believes its drug offers more convenient dosing and a second choice for patients with few treatment options.