J&J invests in integrin therapies via Morphic deal


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Dive Brief:

  • Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen has inked a deal with Morphic Therapeutic, a small, private biotech developing oral therapies targeting proteins known as integrins, the companies stated Thursday.
  • The R&D agreement will focus on several undisclosed integrin targets. The companies plan to push selected candidates through preclinical testing. The candidates are designed to regulate the function of integrin molecules, either through activation or inhibition.
  • Once past Investigational New Drug-enabling studies, Janssen can exercise exclusive options on the licensed compounds. While the upfront amount Janssen is paying Morphic was not disclosed, the big pharma is on the hook for up to $725 million in contingent milestone payments through the deal.

Dive Insight:

Four months after Morphic reached an R&D deal with AbbVie, the Waltham, Massachusetts-based biotech has found another drugmaking giant to partner with.

Morphic and AbbVie announced their deal last October to develop integrin therapies for fibrosis-related indications. That included a sizable $100 million upfront payment, although the amount of milestones was not disclosed.

Corporate venture arms from Pfizer and Novo Holdings A/S have also invested in the company, which was created in 2015. Now, J&J is getting in on Morphic, with a deal facilitated by its Boston-based innovation team, which seeks to partner on promising science and technology emerging from the region.

All this deal and fundraising activity banks on Morphic’s goal of bringing into reality the findings of Timothy Springer, the company’s founder and a professor at Harvard Medical School who discovered the first subfamily of integrins. Specifically, the company hopes to develop oral, small-molecule integrin inhibitors.

There are 24 known integrins in humans, and they can affect a wide variety of biological processes, such as cell growth and survival.

A handful of integrin inhibitors are already on market, typically administered as injections instead of small molecule oral therapies. They cover a broad range of diseases from inflammatory bowel disease to multiple sclerosis and dry eye disease.




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