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J&J gains another bispecific antibody with $1.25B skin drug buy

Dive Brief:

  • Johnson & Johnson is adding to its portfolio of dual-targeting antibody drugs, announcing on Tuesday a deal to acquire an experimental skin disease medicine for $1.25 billion.
  • Per deal terms, J&J will buy Yellow Jersey Therapeutics, a spinout newly created by the drug’s developer, Swiss biotechnology startup Numab Therapeutics. The acquisition hands J&J a drug known as NM26 that’s ready for Phase 2 testing in atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema.
  • In a statement, J&J said NM26 has the potential to offer “distinctive benefits” versus existing treatments for atopic dermatitis, which include Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent and AbbVie’s Rinvoq. The drug targets two proteins, IL-4Ra and IL-31, that are linked to inflammatory diseases.

Dive Insight:

J&J expects its pharmaceutical division to deliver 20 new medicines through the end of the decade, a promise to investors the drugmaker says will lead to sales growth even amid biosimilar competition to its top-sellers.

That plan, outlined by executives in December, put oncology and immunology research in the foreground. And since then, the company has inked deals in both areas, acquiring cancer biotech Ambrx Biopharma in January and immune drug developer Proteologix this month.

J&J has also made clear its interest in bispecific antibodies, medicines that simultaneously home in on two targets and that have become increasingly in-demand by large pharmas. Already, J&J sells the dual-targeting multiple myeloma drugs Talvey and Tecvayli.

When it announced the Protelogix deal, J&J said it aims to build a portfolio of “differentiated and complementary bispecifics” in other disease areas, too. Proteologix had two therapies in development for eczema and asthma.

J&J is now adding another medicine in NM26. Numab says the therapy, which entered Phase 1 testing last year, could be more potent and faster-acting than others now available. Unlike Dupixent, which aims at pathways implicated in skin inflammation, NM26 targets itching as well as inflammation, for instance. In Tuesday’s statement, J&J said NM26 could be useful in treating other skin conditions that involve itching.

“Our investment in differentiated bispecifics is the next chapter in our impactful immunology legacy,” said Candice Long, J&J’s global vice president of immunology.

The deal is the largest so far for Numab, a company backed by Novo Holdings that’s also developing antibody drugs for cancer. The company has alliances with Boehringer Ingelheim and Eisai, and previously licensed rights to NM26 in Japan to Kaken Pharmaceutical. J&J will acquire those rights in a separate deal with Kaken, the company said Tuesday.