- Johnson & Johnson's Janssen and Argenx agreed to a deal potentially worth a total of $1.8 billion to develop the smaller biotech's CD70 antibody cusatuzumab in acute myeloid leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes and other blood cancers, the companies said Monday.
- Janssen will make a $300 million upfront cash payment to Argenx, and a $200 million equity investment will come from J&J's venture arm. Argenx could receive up to $1.3 billion in milestone payments from the deal, which is technically with Cilag, a Swiss subsidiary of Janssen.
- Argenx has the option to keep hold of co-promotion rights in the U.S., and will split royalties 50-50 for this market. In the rest of the world, the biotech will get tiered, double-digit royalties. The deal should close in the first quarter of 2019.
Argenx has taken a somewhat unusual route in immunotherapy; its SIMPLE antibody drug discovery technology is based on antibodies generated from llamas.
It seems to have worked out well for the company, though — Argenx started the year trading with about a $64 share price and hit a 52-week high of $111 on Monday, almost double its January levels. These gains have been particularly notable in a year where many biotechs haven't seen anything close to this level of market growth.
Cusatuzumab has potential across a variety of blood cancers and solid tumors.
In results from an ongoing Phase 1/2 clinical trial presented at the American Society of Hematology's annual meeting this week, 92% of newly diagnosed, elderly patients with AML and high-risk MDS who are unfit for chemotherapy responded to cusatuzumab in combination with Vidaza (azacitidine). Forty two percent reached minimal residual disease (MRD) negativity. AML is an aggressive and deadly cancer of the blood and bone marrow with very high relapse rates.
Argenx is also assessing cusatuzumab in a Phase 2 trial in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Its lead product candidate, efgartigimod, is in development in four different autoimmune diseases, with Phase 3 trials planned in immune thrombocytopenia.
The Janssen deal comes just a few months after another big pharma agreement, where AbbVie exercised its option to license the preclinical cancer immunotherapy candidate ARGX-115 from Argenx, building on a 2016 deal. The AbbVie deal could be worth up to $625 million in development, regulatory and commercial milestone payments.